DUBAI, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Slight profit-taking pushed most regional markets lower on Thursday as investors failed to find a positive catalyst to advance prices that seem stretched.
Markets in the United Arab Emirates slipped from multi-year highs but selling pressure was muted, giving hope of further upside in coming sessions.
"First-quarter expectations will channel into the market and dividends should entice people and help stocks (rise) further in the short-term," said Marwan Shurrab, vice-president and chief trader at Gulfmena Investments.
Other analysts said the market's early-year gains have been sharp, with many stocks at or above fair value, and fresh positive catalysts are required to justify a further hike.
UAE markets have surged this year as traders bet on improved corporate earnings. Fourth-quarter results have been broadly positive, although profits at Dubai bellwether Emaar Properties and Abu Dhabi's Aldar Properties - among the UAE capital's most liquid stocks - missed analysts' estimates.
New development projects have helped sustain a positive sentiment on UAE equities. Dubai on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for a new $1.6 billion man-made island as it resumes constructing extravagant developments, despite the emirate being littered with stalled or abandoned projects commissioned in the boom years of the previous decade.
Dubai's large-cap stocks headed declines. Emirates NBD and Emaar dipped 3.4 and 1 percent respectively.
The emirate's benchmark slipped 0.5 percent, easing away from Wednesday's 38-month high. It rose 1.9 percent for the week. Some investors tend to sell ahead of the weekend to reduce their risk exposure.
Abu Dhabi's benchmark dipped 0.7 percent, also down from a 38-month high. First Gulf Bank was the main drag, slipping 2.7 percent.
Elsewhere, Qatar's index lost 0.4 percent, snapping a rally which helped it hit a 10-month high in the last session.
Industries Qatar shed 2.5 percent and Commercial Bank of Qatar eased 0.7 percent.
In Egypt, the market extended declines. The index slipped 0.3 percent to close at 5,716 points, trimming 2013 gains to 4.6 percent. The market has been moving within a tight range as the government struggles to stabilise the economy and manage widespread protests.
It has been trading within a range of 400 points since Jan. 9 - which is unusual for Egypt's volatile market.
"The buyers are not strong enough to break above the 5,800 levels and the sellers failed to push the prices lower," said Mohabeldeen Agena, head of technical analysis at Cairo's Beltone Financial. "The market will continue to trade sideways in the short-term unless there is a catalyst."
Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil said he expected an International Monetary Fund team to visit this month for talks on a long-awaited loan agreement seen as vital to supporting the country's economy.
Orascom Construction Industries shed 1.1 percent. The construction firm said its shareholders approved the offer to acquire its ordinary shares listed in Cairo in exchange for cash or OCI shares listed in Amsterdam.
Traders are concerned about the possible liquidity drain if the bluechip OCI delists after the offer goes through.
Commercial International Bank shaved 0.3 percent and Egypt Kuwait Holding lost 0.8 percent.
Elsewhere, Kuwait's measure gained 0.2 percent as banks supported. National Bank of Kuwait advanced 1 percent, while Gulf Bank and Ahli United Bank gained 1.2 and 1.1 percent respectively.
Muscat's index ended 0.3 percent higher.
* The index declined 0.5 percent to 1,894 points.
* The index fell 0.7 percent to 2,935 points.
* The index retreated 0.4 percent to 8,793 points.
* The index slipped 0.3 percent to 5,716 points.
* The index climbed 0.2 percent to 6,398 points.
The index gained 0.3 percent to 5,898 points.
* The index rose 0.7 percent to 1,091 points.