May 3, 2018 / 7:54 AM / in 24 days

MIDEAST STOCKS-Gulf stocks mixed, Saudi Ma'aden up 3 pct on strong Q1 earnings

DUBAI, May 3 (Reuters) - Gulf markets were trading mixed on Thursday, but some selective buying was seen in stocks on the back of strong earnings, such as in Saudi Arabian Mining Co (Ma’aden) and Saudi Arabia’s biggest lender National Commercial Bank (NCB).

The decision by the U.S. Federal Reserve to keep interest rates unchanged also provided some floor to the market, although there were fewer drivers for blue-chip stocks to go higher following recent gains.

Ma’aden shares rose almost 3 percent in early trade after it said its first-quarter net profit had more than doubled on higher sales and increased average realised prices of products.

The company posted a net profit of 638 million Saudi riyals ($170.12 million) versus an average estimate of 372 million riyals, based on three analysts.

Shares of NCB were up 0.2 percent after it reported on Wednesday a 10.5 percent rise in first-quarter net profit, above analysts’ forecasts as bad debt charges fell and fees rose.

The Saudi index was flat in morning trade as valuation concerns kept some of the blue chip stocks subdued. Saudi Basic Industries was down 0.4 percent.

The Saudi index has eased off from a more than two-year high hit last week and consolidating at current levels, while Dubai is stabilising after being weighed down by property stocks due to the emirate’s weak real estate market.

Shares of Emaar Properties were up 0.5 percent in early trade, although Dubai’s benchmark index was flat.

“Local markets need a major catalyst to get it moving again and if things don’t change soon then we are probably moving into a very slow month into Ramadan and summer season,” said Marie Salem, director of capital markets at FFA Dubai.

In Qatar the benchmark index fell 1 percent in early trade, weighed by blue chips. Industries Qatar was down 0.6 pct and Qatar National dropped 1.3 percent.

Both stocks have seen double-digit gains this year following decisions to increase foreign ownership limits to 49 percent from 25 percent. The higher ceilings are aimed at lifting stocks’ weight in emerging market indexes. (Reporting by Saeed Azhar; editing by David Stamp)

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