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MIDEAST STOCKS-Most Gulf shares fall as virus cases rise, banks support Saudi

    * Samba jumps on merger speculation
    * Samba, NCB in merger talks- Sources
    * QNB weighs on Qatar

    By Maqsood Alam
    June 25 (Reuters) - Most Gulf stock markets fell on Thursday as the number
of coronavirus cases across the region climbed, with Saudi's index the exception
as banking stocks lifted it to a slightly higher close. 
    The number of novel coronavirus cases in the six Gulf Arab states has
doubled in a month to more than 400,000, as the region's two biggest economies
this week fully lifted curfews imposed to combat the infection.
    Saudi Arabia's benchmark index was up 0.3%. Samba Financial Group
(Samba) closed 4.1% higher before it and National Commercial Bank
(NCB), the country's largest lender, asked the stock exchange to
suspend trading for one session ahead of a material announcement.

    Citing sources, Reuters reported that the lenders are in early talks about a
merger. 
    NCB, shares of which closed flat on Thursday, abandoned a plan to merge with
Riyad Bank in December. Riyad Bank closed 3.4%
higher.
    Dubai's main share index lost 0.6%, weighed down by a 1.1% fall in
Emirates NBD Bank and a 0.7% drop in blue-chip developer Emaar
Properties.
    Emirates NBD, Dubai's largest lender, began cutting hundreds of jobs this
week after the coronavirus crisis accelerated planned lay-offs, Reuters
reported, citing three sources.
    Although the full scale of the redundancies was not immediately clear, one
source estimated Emirates NBD was cutting some 10% of its staff, equivalent to
around 800 people.
    In Abu Dhabi the index retreated 1%, with First Abu Dhabi Bank
 down 1.6%.
    The Qatari index eased 0.4%, hurt by a 1.6% decline in the Gulf's
largest lender Qatar National Bank.
    Fitch Ratings on Wednesday said that Qatar's banks are at risk of volatile
external funding conditions.
    In Egypt, the index was down 1.3% with most of its constituents
falling. Commercial International Bank Egypt led the losers with a
drop of 2%. 
    
 SAUDI ARABIA          gained 0.3% to 7,232 points
 ABU DHABI            declined 1% to 4,286 points
 DUBAI                  fell 0.6% to 2,087 points
 QATAR                eased 0.4% to 9,185 points
 EGYPT                  down 1.3% to 10,891 points
 BAHRAIN              slipped 0.1% to 1,279 points
 OMAN                 was flat at 3,526 points
 KUWAIT               lost 0.2% at 5,657 points
 
 (Reporting by Maqsood Alam in Bengaluru)
  
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