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DUBAI, April 12 (Reuters) - Generally positive first-quarter results from banks in the Gulf helped lift confidence in financial stocks in early trade on Wednesday, while Saudi Arabia's third largest telecommunications operator jumped by its daily limit after it swung to its first ever quarterly net profit.
Shares in Qatar National Bank rose 0.9 percent after it reported net profit of 3.2 billion riyals ($879 million) in the three months to March 31, up 12 percent from the prior year period and beating Arqaam Capital analysts' forecast of 3.0 billion riyals.
Loan growth was up 33 percent year on year to 536 billion riyals, while customer deposits rose by 34 percent to 541 billion riyals.
Its peers that trade on Doha's exchange were also strong, with Commercial Bank jumping 3.1 percent. The index was up 0.8 percent.
In Saudi Arabia, banking shares were also outperforming with all but one of the 11 lenders advancing. Confidence in the sector was lifted after Saudi British Bank reported earnings that were broadly in line with estimates.
The lender made a first quarter net profit of 1.04 billion riyals, down 9.3 percent from the year-ago period. SABB attributed the fall in net profit to higher operating expenses, but said it was partially offset by a 1.6 percent increase in operating income.
Shares in telecommunication operator Zain Saudi jumped 10 percent to 10.05 riyals in their opening minutes of trade after the company made its first ever quarterly net profit since listing in 2008 of 45 million Saudi riyals. That compared to a loss of 249.7 million in the prior-year period, and beat analysts' estimate of a loss of 104 million riyals.
Zain Saudi's sales grew 9 percent to 1.92 billion riyals. Analysts at NCB Capital attributed the surprisingly positive result to strong top-line growth, a record-high gross margin of 67.3 percent, and lower-than-expected depreciation and financing costs.
The Dubai index was up 0.1 percent, buoyed by a 1.0 percent rise in shares of Dubai Islamic Bank, which had reported a 4 percent rise in first quarter results on Tuesday. (Reporting by Celine Aswad; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)