MIDEAST STOCKS-Saudi stocks edge higher in run-up to joining FTSE emerging market index

DUBAI, March 3 (Reuters) - Saudi stocks opened firmer on Sunday, just over two weeks before the Gulf’s biggest market is set to enter the FTSE Russell’s emerging market index.

The Tadawul main index was up 0.5 percent, led by financial stocks. Samba Financial Group rose 1 percent and Al Rajhi Bank climbed 0.8 percent.

Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange expects passive fund inflows of $15 to $20 billion this year as it gears up for inclusion in emerging market benchmarks, its chief executive told Reuters on Thursday.

“(The) Tadawul inclusion process in FTSE Russell’s index should lead to the start of passive inflows in the market,” said Muhammad Faisal Potrik, head of sell-side research at Riyad Capital.

“We have already seen an inflow of over 6.5 billion riyals ($1.73 billion) since the beginning of the year by foreign investors.”

Saudi stocks will be the largest Middle East market in the FTSE Emerging Index with an overall weighting of 2.7 percent, according to the index-compiler FTSE Russell said.

The inclusion will happen in several tranches and will be completed by December this year. The first 25 percent tranche will be added starting March 18, according to the FTSE document.

The Saudi market will also join the MSCI emerging index from May.

Dubai stocks were up 0.3, rebounding from a selloff on Friday when profit-taking set in after a sharp rally in property stocks following strong fourth-quarter earnings of companies linked to Emaar Properties.

Shares of Emaar Properties were up 0.6 percent.

Although the Dubai index has rallied this year, led by strong fourth-quarter results at real estate firms, an expected further fall in property prices is capping gains.

Abu Dhabi’s index was down 0.6 percent, as First Abu Dhabi Bank fell 1.5 percent.

$1 = 3.6400 Qatar riyals $1 = 3.7503 riyals Reporting by Saeed Azhar Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky