November 16, 2017 / 1:12 PM / in a year

MIDEAST STOCKS-Apparent state support aids Saudi, Qatar blue chips rebound

* Saudi index mostly lower, then surges in final 20 minutes

* Real estate firm Dar Al Arkan plunges 10 percent

* Dubai’s Emaar marginally lower after pricing unit’s IPO

* Ezdan continues precipitous decline in Qatar

* Egypt’s index triggers minor double top

By Andrew Torchia

DUBAI, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s stock market closed flat on Thursday, apparently in response to buying by state-linked funds, while Qatar rebounded from a six-year low as blue chips regained strength.

The Saudi index spent most of the day lower and was down as much as 0.9 percent before a burst of buying in the final 20 minutes lifted it to close 0.02 percent higher - a pattern seen on almost every day since the government announced a sweeping anti-corruption purge two weeks ago.

Many asset managers believe that with over 2,000 bank accounts frozen in the purge and many tycoons and individual investors alarmed by the huge extent of the crackdown, state-linked funds have been mounting an operation to stabilise the market and prevent panic from spreading.

Real estate firm Dar Al Arkan, the most heavily traded stock, plunged 9.6 percent. It has been volatile in heavy trading volumes for a week, after announcing strong quarterly earnings.

Al Tayyar Travel, whose founder has been detained in the probe, sank a further 4.3 percent; it has lost 28 percent in the past two weeks.

Banque Saudi Fransi shot up 3.7 percent. On Wednesday the bank said chief executive Patrice Couvegnes had been dismissed and would be replaced by Rayan bin Mohammed Fayez, who resigned as CEO of food maker Savola Group.

In a report, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said it was positive about the Saudi market, partly because of an attractive valuation, at a forward 12-month price-earnings ratio of 13 times, which was in line with other emerging markets; historically, Riyadh has been at a 20 percent premium.

But the investment bank said demand for Saudi stocks could be dampened for now by geopolitical risks and a lack of clarity on the pace of economic reforms.

“As such, we view it unlikely that the market would outperform peers until greater comfort is obtained on these issues, which could emerge with the 2018 budget in the fourth quarter of 2017.”

Dubai’s stock index edged down 0.2 percent as Emaar Properties closed 0.3 percent lower. It priced the IPO of its unit Emaar Development at 6.03 dirhams per share, in the lower half of an indicative range of 5.7-6.9 dirhams set earlier this month.

Some fund managers said the pricing was lower than Emaar could have achieved given the size of institutional demand, and that Emaar seemed to be accepting a lower pricing to make sure retail investors bought into the IPO.

Qatar, which has been slumping partly because of the sanctions imposed on Doha by other Arab states, rebounded 0.8 percent as blue chips recovered; Qatar National Bank climbed 1.0 percent and Barwa Real Estate surged 3.4 percent.

But another real estate firm, Ezdan Holding, continued a precipitous decline after being downgraded to junk status earlier this week by credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s, which cited Qatar’s weak property market.

Ezdan sank 6.0 percent on Thursday, bringing its losses so far this year to 59 percent.

In Kuwait, Al Mal Investment Co soared 17.7 percent after investment firm Al Khair National said it intended to sell its entire stake in Al Mal; details were not given. The Kuwait index rose 0.4 percent.

In Egypt, the index tumbled 1.3 percent to 13,847 points, triggering a minor double top formed by the highs since end-October and pointing down to around 13,500 points. Arab Cotton Ginning dropped 3.7 percent.


* The index edged up 0.02 percent to 6,913 points.


* The index slipped 0.2 percent to 3,460 points.


* The index fell 0.2 percent to 4,328 points.


* The index added 0.8 percent to 7,826 points.


* The index sank 1.3 percent to 13,847 points.


* The index rose 0.4 percent to 6,309 points.


* The index gained 0.4 percent to 1,270 points.


* The index edged down 0.1 percent to 5,106 points. (Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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