Stock markets in the Middle East were mixed in modest trading volumes on Sunday with Saudi Arabia and Qatar outperforming because of support from the banking sector, while Egypt fell as the currency hit a three-month high.
Two-thirds of the 12 listed banks on Saudi Arabia's bourse gained, lifting the index 0.1 percent. Alawwal Bank added 2.7 percent, with most activity occurring in the last hour of the session.
Reuters reported on Sunday, citing banking sources, that builder Saudi Binladin Group had received hundreds of millions of dollars from the government to settle debts since the start of this year - good news for the company and its bank creditors.
The largest Islamic lender, Al Rajhi Bank, added 0.4 percent after its chief executive told Reuters that the bank gained market share in corporate banking last year for the first time in four years, and would continue to expand in that area by focusing on healthcare services, affordable housing, transportation and energy.
Qatar's index climbed 0.9 percent in a broad-based increase as Qatar National Bank added 1.8 percent.
Dubai's index edged down 0.1 percent as builder Arabtec dropped 3.9 percent and peer Drake & Scull lost 2.6 percent.
Nadim Kabbara, head of research at Beirut-based FFA Private Bank, said United Arab Emirates markets were digesting quarterly corporate earnings amid generally improving oil prices and a positive investment sentiment.
"While earnings in the UAE haven't been particularly inspiring, mainly among smaller-cap equities in the construction sector, larger-cap banks and real estate earnings helped provide some stability as investors await appetising dividends that are typically paid in the next few months," said Nadim Kabbara, head of research at Beirut-based FFA Private Bank.
Shuaa Capital jumped 6.7 percent on optimism over the investment company's new strategy, which was announced this month and includes an acquisition.
Large caps weighed on Abu Dhabi's index, which fell 0.5 percent. First Gulf Bank lost 0.7 percent and Etisalat dropped 1.1 percent.
Eshraq Properties jumped 9.5 percent. Last week the developer reported a net loss for 2016 versus a net profit in 2015, but revenue for the year rose 36 percent. The company attributed the loss to a large impairment charge on land.
Egypt's index retreated 0.8 percent as bourse data showed foreign investors, who are often absent on a Sunday, were net sellers to the tune of about $175 million - a very large amount by the standards of that market.
Foreign investors bought stocks heavily in the months after the Egyptian pound was floated on Nov. 3, which caused the currency to depreciate, making equities much cheaper for international buyers.
In the last couple of weeks the pound has been rebounding, however, and it was quoted at 15.77 per U.S. dollar on Sunday, its strongest level since late November. The appreciation has made stocks more expensive for foreigners and encouraged some to book currency gains.
Juhayna Food, which had outperformed the index since the start of the year, fell 5.4 percent on Sunday.
But Arabia Cotton Ginning jumped 5.6 percent, taking its gains over the past week to 11.0 percent. Investors are optimistic that a surge in local cotton prices ahead of next month's planting season, and a crackdown on fake Egyptian cotton worldwide, will revive the industry.
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