March 19, 2018 / 7:47 AM / a year ago

MIDEAST STOCKS-Gulf stocks mostly flat, Qatar bucks the trend on banks

DUBAI, March 19 (Reuters) - Gulf stock markets were mostly flat early on Monday, weighed down by weak global stocks and oil prices, but Qatar bucked the trend, helped by gains in financials such as Qatar National Bank.

Asian share markets slipped into the red on Monday in a week in which the Federal Reserve is likely to hike U.S. interest rates, while oil prices fell as increased drilling in the United States pointed to more output.

In the United Arab Emirates, indexes in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were both flat.

Emaar Properties was up 0.5 percent in late morning trade after closing near a 20-month low on Sunday. The weakness in Emaar’s shares, which are down 10 percent year-to-date, has been a major factor in the Dubai market’s lacklustre performance.

“Emaar is affected by renewed concerns about the health of the Dubai real estate market in the face of upcoming supply,” said Vrajesh Bhandari, portfolio manager at Al Mal Capital.

Saudi Arabia’s index was also flat as weak oil prices weighed on energy stocks.

Telecommunications firm Zain Saudi bucked the trend, rising 1.2 percent in early trade after the company said on Sunday it had extended the maturity of a 2.25 billion riyal ($600 million) loan.

Qatar’s index was up 0.4 percent, powered by a 1.4 percent gain in index heavyweight Qatar National Bank and a 1.2 percent rise in Qatar Islamic Bank. Al Mal’s Bhandari said Qatar equities were seeing a good amount of investor interest due to recent plans to increase foreign ownership limits of Qatari companies.

QNB is currently only owned about 7.2 percent by foreign and Gulf investors, but it has said it plans to raise its foreign ownership ceiling to 49 percent from 25 percent, which would boost its weighting in emerging market indexes. (Reporting by Saeed Azhar; Editing by Andrew Torchia and Toby Chopra)

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