MIDEAST STOCKS-Gulf markets benefit from improved global backdrop
* UAE markets surge as all regional bourses gain
* Dubai, Abu Dhabi boosted by property boom, strong earnings
* Arabtec climbs after announcing diversification plans
* Qatar attracts dividend-hunters
* Saudi Arabia slowed by crackdown on illegal labour
By Olzhas Auyezov
DUBAI, Feb 9 (Reuters) - A favourable global backdrop lifted all major stock markets in the Middle East on Sunday while strong earnings and positive newsflow from the property sector put bourses in the United Arab Emirates ahead of the pack.
Abu Dhabi's index surged 2.2 percent and Dubai's measure was up 1.1 percent, both aided by property and related sectors as well as small-cap stocks which are popular among retail investors.
"Part of it obviously was due to a good lead from the international markets," said Amer Khan, fund manager at Shuaa Asset Management. Global equity markets surged on Friday as investors set aside any fear of economic softness after a weak U.S. jobs report.
But the UAE's bourses are also being supported by recent quarterly earnings reports and a recovery in property prices which has enabled local companies to revive previously frozen projects and expand aggressively into new sectors and foreign markets.
Dubai builder Arabtec, whose shares had already surged earlier this month on news of a $6 billion contract, gained another 3.0 percent on Sunday after announcing plans to branch out into infrastructure, water, energy and financial services.
"Earnings in the UAE have been quite supportive of the rally that we've seen thus far," Khan said, adding that investors expectws remaining fourth-quarter financial reports to be positive as well.
Abu Dhabi's First Gulf Bank was among the top gainers on Sunday, jumping 6.3 percent. It announced its highest ever quarterly profit at the end of January and hiked its annual dividend by 20 percent; last week, it announced plans to build an investment banking business.
Qatar's index closely trailed Dubai and gained 1.0 percent. Generous dividend payments by Qatari firms traditionally attract investors during the earnings season.
Analysts also say Qatar, along with Oman which gained 0.7 percent on Sunday, is popular among local investors who look for safe havens after booking profits in more volatile markets.
Saudi Arabia's index added 0.5 percent with gains in most sectors. However, it remains the Gulf's laggard with a rise of just 3.3 percent so far this year, following a crackdown late last year on illegal immigrants who make up a significant part of local workforce. In the short term at least, the crackdown has made finding workers harder for some companies and driven up their costs.
* The index rose 1.1 percent to 3,975 points.
* The index gained 2.2 percent to 4,826 points.
* The index gained 1.0 percent to 11,306 points.
* The index climbed 0.7 percent to 7,153 points.
* The index climbed 0.5 percent to 8,866 points.
* The index rose 0.5 percent to 7,461 points.
* The index advanced 0.4 percent to 7,863 points.
* The index gained 0.5 percent to 1,311 points. (Editing by Andrew Torchia)