U.S. Markets closed

MIDEAST STOCKS-Saudi index slips, weighed down by banks and Aramco

By Maqsood Alam

* 9 of 11 Saudi banks slip * Aramco closes down to 34.4 riyals * Almarai drops on profit fall * Top lender supports Egypt By Maqsood Alam Jan 19 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabian stocks closed lower on Sunday, pulled down by losses at banking and energy firms, while the indexes in Qatar and Dubai extended their gains to a straight seventh day. Saudi Arabia's index was down 0.1%. Saudi Aramco weighted the index most with a 0.7% fall, extending losses to a third day running. On Sunday, Al Rajhi Capital Research rated the Aramco stock "neutral" in line with most other brokerages and set a target price of 37.5 riyals ($10.00)per share. JPMorgan was the first major brokerage to initiate coverage of Saudi Aramco with an "overweight" rating, setting a price target of 37 riyals per share and saying it sees scope for an increase in the energy giant's proposed $75 billion base dividend. Saudi British Bank dropped 2%, while dairy firm Almarai closed down 0.9% as its profit for the fourth-quarter declined by 15.9% after increases in selling, administration and general costs. Among the gainers was United Electronics which jumped 5.1%, its biggest intra-day rise since May 15, 2019. The company's said its fourth-quarter profit rose 14.6%. The Qatari index closed up 0.1%, with Qatar National Bank gaining 0.3% and Qatar International Islamic Bank rising 0.8%. Dubai's index rose 1.2%, buoyed by a 2.2% increase in its largest bank Emirates NBD and a 1.4% gain at Emaar Properties. In Abu Dhabi, the index closed down 0.1%, snapping a six-session winning streak, with Emirates Telecommunications Group slipping 0.4% and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) dropping 0.6% On Thursday, ADCB said its Islamic lending unit Al Hilal Bank had agreed to sell its Islamic insurance business and operations. Outside the Gulf, the Egyptian blue-chip index rose 0.7%, supported by a 2.7% gain by Commercial International Bank Egypt. On Thursday, Egypt's central bank left its overnight interest rates unchanged, while keeping its deposit rate steady at 12.25% and its lending rate at 13.25%. SAUDI ARABIA slipped 0.1% to 8,449 points ABU DHABI was down 0.1% to 5,174 points DUBAI rose 1.2% to 2,863 points QATAR added 0.1% to 10,713 points EGYPT up 0.7% to 13,918 points BAHRAIN was up 0.1% to 1,642 points OMAN was up 0.3% to 4,074 points KUWAIT gained 0.7% to 7,141 points ($1 = 3.7517 riyals) (Reporting by Maqsood Alam in Bengaluru; Editing by Pravin Char)