Kuwait outperforms as Saudi stalls, Dubai slips

DUBAI: Stock markets in the Gulf diverged yesterday with Saudi Arabia stalling near a six-week low and Dubai retreating on profit-taking, while Kuwait continued to outperform. Kuwait’s stock market gained 1.9 percent with the largest logistics firm in the Gulf, Agility, and National Bank of Kuwait each climbing 3.0 percent.

Kuwait’s index is up 8.2 percent since Jan. 1, outperforming the region after a long period of sluggish performance. “Sentiment is very positive in the market but no change in fundamentals,” said Bader Al-Gahnim, head of regional asset management at Kuwait-based Global Investment House. “From an economic perspective the country is well positioned due to prudent fiscal management and a lower fiscal break-even oil price.”

Saudi Arabia’s index added 0.1 percent. Nine of the top 10 performers were from the insurance segment with Wafa Insurance in the lead, jumping 9.1 percent. Interest in the sector has risen partly because of local media reports late last year that Saudi Arabia was looking at the possibility of including haj and umra pilgrims in a compulsory health insurance scheme.

Almarai rose 0.4 percent after the Gulf’s largest dairy company reported a 1 percent increase in fourth-quarter net profit to 488.5 million riyals ($130 million), roughly in line with analysts’ forecasts. Sales rose marginally and the cost of sales fell. Analysts at NCB Capital said that despite the relatively flat earnings and revenue growth, strong margin expansion from lower operating expenditure and improving sales in Almarai’s poultry segment were important positives.

The company, one of the few in Saudi Arabia that give forward guidance, said it would “continue to focus on costs control, efficiency gains and cashflow preservation while maintaining its strategic direction of profitable growth”. However the results revealed the dairy and juice segment had suffered its first year-on-year decline in sales, according to NCB Capital. This sent some other food producers lower, with Saudia Dairy and Foodstuff dropping 3.4 percent.

Bank Aljazira, the first bank to report earnings in the kingdom, reported a 4.4 percent drop in fourth-quarter net profit to 152 million riyals. Aljazira cited higher impairment charges for credit losses.
The bank’s stock closed 0.4 percent higher after trading lower for most of the session. However, some other banks were knocked lower, with Saudi British Bank dropping 1.4 percent. Egypt’s main index rose to yet another record close in healthy trading volume. The index has risen 56 percent since the currency was floated on Nov 3. Arabian Cement jumped its 10 percent daily limit for a third consecutive session to 9.91 Egyptian pounds.

Analysts have said the company is trading at a discount to its fair value and there is further upside potential because of improving industry fundamentals and an expected rise in product prices.

National Bank of Oman lost 1.2 percent after posting a 19.9 percent fall in fourth-quarter net profit, at the low end of analysts’ estimates.

Dubai’s index pulled back 1.1 percent, its largest single-day decline in a month, retreating from a 15-month high hit last week. Some of last week’s biggest gainers were among the main drags – builder Drake & Scull dropped 3.6 percent and Amlak Finance lost 2.2 percent.

Abu Dhabi’s index edged down 0.1 percent.  International Fish Farming Holding (Asmak) jumped 6.9 percent after a blog posting suggested a well-known Abu Dhabi individual investor had bought a strategic stake in the company. But contacted by Reuters, an Asmak spokesman denied that, and said the company had also communicated the denial to the Abu Dhabi exchange. — Reuters

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