May 3, 2018 / 12:53 PM / 3 months ago

MIDEAST STOCKS-Markets down on Iran concerns, EM weakness; blue-chips lift Saudi

* Iran concerns weigh on markets

* Pre-Ramadan selling adds to general weakness

* But Saudi blue-chips offer support to index

* Dubai keeps falling

* Egypt also down but EFG-Hermes remains bullish

By Davide Barbuscia and Saeed Azhar

DUBAI, May 3 (Reuters) - Middle East stock markets moved down in line with global emerging markets and because of persisting geopolitical tensions, as the risk of the United States pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal looms.

The Saudi Arabian index was in negative territory most of the day but closed up 0.1 percent as some selective buying for blue-chip stocks such as Al Rajhi Bank, up 0.8 percent, and Saudi Arabia Mining Co (Ma’aden), up 2.4 percent, offered support to an otherwise sluggish market.

Ma’aden shares soared almost 3 percent in early trade after it said its first-quarter net profit had more than doubled on higher sales and increased average realised prices of products. The company posted a net profit of 638 million riyals ($170.12 million)versus an average estimate of 372 million riyals, based on three analysts.

The Saudi exchange has eased off from a more than two-year high hit last week and has been consolidating at current levels.

Real estate developer Dar Al Arkan was the most traded stock on Thursday, and fell 3 percent. The worst performer was Company for Cooperative Insurance (Tawuniya) , which plunged 9.9 percent after disappointing first quarter financial results. Its Q1 net profit fell to 21.5 million riyals from 36.1 million riyals one year earlier.

Markets were soft across the rest of the region. “We see the move as related to global emerging markets, where the MSCI EM index is down for the third day in a row and the largest EM ETF saw $320 million of outflows yesterday following $550 million the previous day,” said Mohamad Al Hajj, head of MENA equity strategy at EFG-Hermes.

The Egyptian index closed 1.9 percent down, with shares across various sectors posting losses of up to 5 percent.

“In the case of Egypt, the market hasn’t posted monthly losses since April 2017, and the global EM weakness is leading to some consolidation,” said Al Hajj, adding that EFG-Hermes remained bullish on Egypt in the medium term as it expects the index to continue to post gains once the consolidation period is over.

Back in the Gulf, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar all dropped on Thursday, as in addition to emerging market weakness, some “pre-Ramadan selling” started, said Vrajesh Bhandari, portfolio manager at Al Mal Capital.

The Dubai index lost 1.8 percent, dragged down by Emaar Properties, which shed 3.7 percent.

“We have MENA dedicated money leave UAE in search of faster returns in Saudi and Egypt – now that these markets have rallied, investors don’t see an immediate catalyst to rotate in back. DFMGI is at a 2 year low and technically speaking that is not a healthy sign,” said Bhandari.

The Qatar index dropped 1.7 percent, weighed by blue chips. Industries Qatar was down 0.6 percent and Qatar National Bank dropped 1.9 percent.

SAUDI ARABIA

* The index was up 0.1 percent to 8,107 points.

DUBAI

* The index dropped 1.8 percent to 2,948 points.

ABU DHABI

* The index was down 1.7 percent to 4,557 points.

QATAR

* The index fell 1.7 percent to 8,806 points.

KUWAIT

* The index climbed 0.3 percent to 4,792 points.

BAHRAIN

* The index edged up 0.2 percent to 1,263 points.

OMAN

* The index shed 0.1 percent to 4,726 points.

EGYPT

* The index dropped 1.9 percent to 17,833 points.

$1 = 3.7502 riyals Reporting by Davide Barbuscia; Editing by Jon Boyle

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