October 5, 2017 / 8:16 AM / a year ago

MIDEAST STOCKS-Gulf soft in early trade; Saudi insurer Metlife surges

DUBAI, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Stock markets in the Gulf were mostly weak in early trade on Thursday with individual stocks reacting to company-specific news in Saudi Arabia, while Qatar continued to decline from a five-year low.

Saudi-based insurer Metlife AIG ANB Cooperative Insurance surged its 10 percent daily limit after the company announced that the industry regulator had approved the opening of three new outlets in Riyadh, Jeddah and Khobar. Metlife said the positive financial impact would be reflected in its fourth-quarter results.

Arabian Cement was up 0.4 percent after announcing that it is in initial talks with privately held Safwa Cement for a potential merger.

This would be the first merger in the history of the sector in Saudi Arabia, according to NCB Capital. The sector has been hit by a demand slowdown and a slump in profits over the last two years. Arabian Cement has a annual production capacity of 5.4 million tonnes while Safwa has 3.35 million tonnes.

“The combined capacity of both players would make the potential new entity the second largest player in the market by overall installed capacity after Southern Cement,” said NCB Capital in a note.

Rabigh Refining and Petrochemical, a joint venture between state-owned Saudi Aramco and Japan’s Sumitomo, lost 1.3 percent after saying it had shut its vacuum gas oil unit for 32 days as part of scheduled maintenance.

Saudi Airlines Catering was up 0.6 percent after saying it had signed a three-year, 27 million riyal ($7.2 million) contract with state-owned Saudia Airlines to operate a central baggage warehouse. The company expects the positive earnings impact to be reflected in the first quarter of 2018.

The main Saudi index was down 0.2 percent after 55 minutes of trade.

In Kuwait, Zain surged 5.3 percent while Omantel rose 1.8 percent. Regional television network Al Arabiya quoted a securities analyst as saying there were rumours that Omantel was in talks with Kuwait’s Al Kharafi Group to buy a further 12 percent stake in Zain; in August, Omantel bought 9.84 percent of the company.

Qatar’s index, which closed at a five-year low on Wednesday, continued to decline and fell 0.2 percent. Banking and commodity-linked shares were again the main drags; Commercial Bank lost 1.2 percent and Gulf International Services fell 0.9 percent.

The Dubai index was up 0.1 percent in relatively thin trade with some of the previous session’s advancing shares extending gains; the Gulf’s only listed stock exchange, Dubai Financial Market, rose 0.9 percent.

In Abu Dhabi, the index edged down 0.1 percent as First Abu Dhabi Bank lost 1.0 percent. (Reporting by Celine Aswad; Editing by Andrew Torchia and Toby Chopra)

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