Gulf mostly up despite oil, Egypt continues recovery


Most major Gulf stock markets rose on Thursday as positive corporate news and earnings outweighed a pull-back of oil prices, while Egypt continued its bounce from three-month lows.

Brent crude plunged 6 percent on Wednesday because of a shock jump in U.S. crude inventories and news of record Saudi output. It rebounded about 3 percent to $57.20 a barrel in Asia on Thursday.

But Saudi Arabia's stock market rose across the board with the main index up 1.1 percent. Even petrochemicals, very sensitive to oil prices, posted gains; Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) climbed 0.8 percent.

One factor buoying sentiment may be the anticipated release of the Capital Market Authority's final rules for opening the market to direct foreign investment. The rules are expected to be published by the end of April and the market to be opened by the end of Ramadan in mid-July, a senior Saudi banker told Reuters last week.

National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia (Bahri) soared 9.8 percent to 45.50 riyals, its highest level since September 2006, after it more than doubled first-quarter net profit.

The company also said it had agreed a 10-year deal with South Korea's S-Oil Corp to ship crude oil from the third quarter of this year; it expects to book revenues of at least 250 million riyals ($67 million) annually from the deal.

Banque Saudi Fransi gained 2.0 percent after it posted a 22.7 percent rise in first-quarter net profit to 1.05 billion riyals ($279.9 million), beating analysts' average forecast of 867.6 million riyals.

Meanwhile Qatar National Bank, the largest lender in the Gulf Arab region, reported a 10.1 percent increase in first-quarter net profit to 2.7 billion riyals ($741.7 million); analysts polled by Reuters had on average forecast 2.63 billion riyals. QNB also reported an 8.9 percent increase in its lending.

This, combined with the Saudi Fransi announcement, partially eased concern that growth in the Gulf's banking sector is slowing because of regulatory initiatives and delays in some public projects, and could slow further if low oil prices start to tighten banking system liquidity.

QNB's shares rose 0.8 percent, pulling up the Qatari stock index, which gained 0.3 percent.

United Arab Emirates stock markets fell in early trade but closed well off their lows because of Saudi Arabia's strength.

Dubai's index ended 0.2 percent lower as some of the low-priced shares which led the market up earlier in the week lost steam.
Dubai Investments, which had soared 23 percent in the previous two weeks ahead of Wednesday's annual meeting which approved a higher cash dividend and a bonus share issue, fell 0.4 percent.

Egypt's market continued a rebound after a three-week profit-taking bout dragged it as much as 15 percent off February's multi-year peak. The index rose 1.2 percent.

Commercial International Bank gained 2.6 percent and Orascom Construction added 2.9 percent.




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