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Saudi, Dubai stocks pull back; Egypt hit again by monetary fears

DUBAI - The Saudi Arabian and Dubai stock markets pulled back on Wednesday as they digested gains made over the past several days, but trading volumes were active and general sentiment was positive because of the recent bounce of oil prices.

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DUBAI - The Saudi Arabian and Dubai stock markets pulled back on Wednesday as they digested gains made over the past several days, but trading volumes were active and general sentiment was positive because of the recent bounce of oil prices.

The Saudi stock index rose as much as 0.7 percent in early trade but closed 0.2 percent lower at 6,170 points. On Tuesday, it broke technical resistance at the early February and end-January peaks of 6,056-6,099 points, which is now a band of support.

The petrochemical sector fell 0.8 percent and Al Tayyar Travel dropped 2.6 percent.

But some speculative small-caps continued rising with National Agriculture Development surging 7.6 percent. Islamic insurer SABB Takaful climbed 3.3 percent in unusually heavy trade after as it announced the appointment of Steven Cosgrove as chief executive, taking over from Adrian Flowers, who held the post for five years.

Dubai's index, which had climbed 1.5 percent on Tuesday, dropped 1.9 percent as Arabtec, the most heavily traded stock, tumbled 9.1 percent to 1.50 dirhams.

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Arabtec had jumped its 15 percent daily limit on the two previous days after exchange data showed former chief executive Hasan Ismaik had raised his stake in the firm to 11.91 percent from 11.81 percent. But there has been no further increase in the stake since then, and it is not clear whether Ismaik's action has any long-term significance for the company.

Many institutional investors are sceptical of the stock, which has long been a favourite of local individual speculators. Of eight analysts covering it, three rate it "hold" and five "sell" or "strong sell", according to Thomson Reuters data; their median price target is 1.09 dirhams.

Arabtec's pull-back triggered profit-taking in some other speculative stocks - Amlak Finance plunged its 10 percent daily limit - but some stayed strong, with Gulf Finance House up 2.0 percent.

Blue chip Emaar Properties failed a test of technical resistance on its December peak of 5.88 dirhams, dropping 1.9 percent to 5.75 dirhams.

But Abu Dhabi's index rose 0.2 percent as Aldar Properties gained 1.2 percent. RAK Cement jumped 6.2 percent after saying it had bought back a further 950,000 of its shares on Monday.

Qatar fell in early trade but closed 0.5 percent higher as Vodafone Qatar, the most heavily traded stock, surged 4.0 percent.

Fellow telecommunications firm Ooredoo dropped 6.4 percent; it reported a 555 percent leap in fourth-quarter net profit but proposed cutting its annual dividend to 3 riyals per share from 4 riyals in the previous year, after unrest and currency weakness hit its foreign operations.

Egypt's index rose in early trade as several investment banking and financial services firms attracted interest after Beltone Financial signed a share purchase agreement this week to buy CI Capital, the investment banking arm of Commercial International Bank.

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Beltone again jumped its 10 percent limit on Wednesday, bringing its gains since Feb. 9 to 230 percent. This helped to pull fresh buying into other members of the sector, including EFG Hermes and Prime Holding.

But those two stocks ultimately closed lower in a broad sell-off as investors worried about the risk of an interest rate hike, a currency devaluation or both in coming days or weeks, with the government bond yields rising and the Egyptian pound under pressure in the black market.

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