DUBAI, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's stock market was choppy in early trade on Monday as investors were split between bargain buyers and nervous sellers after volatile oil prices slumped below $28, while Egypt's bourse rebounded as traders bought on dips.
Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC), the kingdom's largest company by market value, plunged 6.1 percent.
The petrochemical producer reported a 29.4 percent drop in fourth-quarter net profit on Sunday due to lower prices for its products, missing analyst forecasts.
Saudi's benchmark fell by as much as 1.0 percent in the opening minutes. It then recovered to briefly be in positive territory, only to then slip back. It was down 0.6 percent at 5,489 points at 0846 GMT, taking its losses 2016 losses to 20.6 percent
Most stocks were oversold, according to technical indicators, but the instability in oil prices means these measures offer little guidance.
"The index has slipped further into the negative territory to test its next critical level of 5,400 points," Riyad Capital wrote in a note. The markets are awaiting a concrete bullish signal, the note added.
Some bargain hunters were buying mid-cap stocks that have tumbled this year, but volumes were modest and most oil-linked stocks declined.
National Shipping Co (Bahri), the exclusive oil shipper for Saudi Aramco, fell 4 percent. Bahri had gained 5.9 percent on Sunday - after market hours, it reported a huge jump in fourth-quarter net profit that was above analyst forecasts.
The bank sector firmed, with Riyad Bank rising 0.9 percent. The kingdom's fourth-largest lender by assets said on Monday it has reached a preliminary agreement to sell land in the second largest city, Jeddah, for 202.5 million riyals ($54 million).
National Commercial Bank (NCB) topped the sector's gainers, advancing 1.3 percent. Saudi's largest bank by assets, had announced better than expected quarterly earnings last week.
Egypt's bourse jumped 3 percent in early trade, trimming its 2016 losses to 15.3 percent.
Foreign fund managers, who reduced their positions last week, have returned to buy stocks at lower prices.
"The market is not trading on fundamentals or technicals they are trading on sentiment," said a Cairo-based stock broker.
Orascom Telecom was up 3.7 percent. Investment firm, Qalaa Holding, which had fallen to a record low of 1.16 Egyptian pounds on Thursday, rallied to 1.23 Egyptian pounds. (Reporting by Celine Aswad; Editing by Matt Smith)