April 1, 2018 / 2:26 PM / a year ago

MIDEAST STOCKS-Qatar boosted by rising ownership limits, Saudi edges down

* Higher foreign ownership limits to lift Qatar stocks' EM weights

* Second day of modest profit-taking in Saudi after FTSE decision

* Jabal Omar drops after swinging to big annual loss

* Kingdom Holding rises after proposing unchanged dividend

* Kuwait divides market into three segments

By Davide Barbuscia

DUBAI, April 1 (Reuters) - Qatar's stock market climbed on Sunday because of plans to raise foreign ownership limits for four more major companies, while the Saudi Arabian bourse fell for a second straight day after FTSE Russell’s decision to upgrade it to emerging market status.

The Qatari index rose 1.1 percent after Qatar Petroleum said foreign investors would be able to hold up to 49 percent of its affiliates Qatar Fuel, Gulf International Services, Mesaieed Petrochemical and Qatar Electricity and Water Co.

Mesaieed jumped 9.9 percent, Qatar Fuel gained 7.1 percent, Gulf International Services was up 6.3 percent and Qatar Electricity and Water was up 1.2 percent.

Actual foreign ownership levels in those companies aren't close to the current ceilings, but higher ceilings would likely boost the stocks' weightings in emerging market indexes.

The Saudi index shed 0.9 percent because of moderate profit-taking, after surging in the run-up to FTSE's decision. Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) slipped 0.2 percent and Al Rajhi Bank fell 1.2 percent.

Dubai's Al Mal Capital said of investors' response to the FTSE decision: "The muted market reaction suggests that retail investors were positioned for it and were in no rush to add exposure.

"At 17.5 times trailing twelve-month earnings, the overall market valuation is not cheap and at a small premium to its historical average," Al Mal said, adding that it was hard to justify some current Saudi valuations, such as SABIC trading at 19 times earnings.

However, Al Mal and other fund managers noted that the FTSE decision was long-term positive for Saudi Arabia, and with the planned listing of national oil giant Saudi Aramco, could give it roughly as much weight in global portfolios as mainstream emerging markets such as India and Brazil.

Exchange data released after the close showed all types of foreign investors bought a net $301 million of Saudi stocks last week, the third highest total on record.

Real estate developer Jabal Omar dropped 2.9 percent after reporting it swung to an annual net loss of 601 million riyals ($160.2 million); it cited weak revenue from sales of residential units due to delays in obtaining marketing permits, and higher administrative and general expenses.

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s investment firm Kingdom Holding gained 2.6 percent after the company proposed a cash dividend of 0.50 riyal per share for 2017, the same as in previous years, a fresh sign that the company’s operations have not so far been seriously impacted by his detention in Saudi Arabia’s corruption probe.

Prince Alwaleed was freed in January and has insisted he is innocent of any wrongdoing, though Saudi officials said he signed an undisclosed settlement.

The Dubai index closed up 0.9 percent, rebounding from losses in recent weeks as funds flowed to Saudi Arabia in anticipation of its upgrade. Deyaar Development was the most heavily traded stock, rising 1.7 percent as it continued to rebound after hitting a 10-month low last week.

In Kuwait, the market was divided into three segments on Sunday as part of reforms designed by the exchange to boost liquidity and attract more foreign money: the premier market, the main market and the auction market.

The index of the premier market, home to the largest and most liquid companies, fell 1.1 percent.


* The index fell 0.9 percent down to 7,801 points.


* The index gained 0.9 percent to 3,136 points.


* The index shed 0.04 percent to 4,584 points.


* The index rose 1.1 percent to 8,669 points.


* The index gained 0.8 percent to 17,596 points.


* The index fell 1.1 percent to 4,946 points.


* The index lost 1.2 percent to 1,303 points.


* The index shed 0.8 percent to 4,737 points. (Editing by Andrew Torchia)

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