Gulf stock markets retreated on Sunday after Brent crude oil pulled back below $39 a barrel.
Brent fell 3 percent last week, although it finished the first quarter up 6 percent. In response, Riyadh's stock index fell 1.6 percent to a five-week low of 6,126 points, breaking technical support at its mid-March low of 6,202 points.
From Sunday, the Saudi market started trading at 10 a.m. local time (0700 GMT), an hour earlier than previously, and closed at 4 p.m. local time, half an hour earlier, as part of efforts to develop the market and link trading with other regional bourses.
The petrochemical sector fell 2.2 percent. With first-quarter financial results due in a few weeks, analysts anticipate a further profit squeeze in the sector after the government, to save money, cut gas feedstock subsidies at the end of last year. Riyadh-based NCB Capital expects the sector's net income for 2016 to fall 9.7 percent to 20.0 billion riyals ($5.33 billion).
There is also uncertainty over economic policy. Deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman told Bloomberg at the weekend that the Public Investment Fund would eventually control more than $2 trillion, partly by taking over shares in national oil giant Saudi Aramco, gaining more financial clout to make further investments and earnings for the government.
There is unease over how this process would be managed and the effect on the stock market.
"It seems that retail investors want to sit on some cash for the time being until there is more clarity regarding the National Transformation Plan," said a Jeddah-based analyst.
The insurance sector, favoured by speculative day traders, tumbled 3.9 percent.
But Saudi Arabian Mining (Ma'aden) added 3.5 percent after it said commercial output had begun at the Ad Duwayhi gold mine in western Saudi Arabia. The impact would begin to appear in second-quarter financial results.
National Shipping Company (Bahri) added 1.9 percent after the oil transporter said it had signed a murabaha, or Islamic finance, facility with Riyad Bank worth 1.425 billion riyals ($380 million) to finance construction of five very large crude carriers.
Dubai's index fell 1.6 percent in modest volume to 3,303 points, retreating from technical resistance on the March peaks of 3,397-3,421 points.
Shares that have recently witnessed a rally of more than 10 percent from their mid-January lows were sold off, with Arabtec and developer Dubai Parks and Resorts dropping 1.8 percent and 2.3 percent respectively.
Energy-related stocks were the main drag on Abu Dhabi's index, which slid 0.7 percent. Abu Dhabi National Energy Co (TAQA) dropped 6.1 percent, erasing most of a 6.5 percent gain which it posted on Thursday after reporting a narrower fourth-quarter loss of 1.22 billion dirhams ($332.2 million) versus a net loss of 3.63 billion dirhams a year ago.
Qatar's benchmark fell 1.2 percent in the lowest volume since Jan. 12 as most blue chips were sold. Barwa Real Estate and Vodafone Qatar each dropped more than 1.5 percent.
Cairo's main index failed to hold onto early session gains and fell 0.1 percent in the lowest volumes since the devaluation of the Egyptian pound on March 14. Real estate investment firm Amer Group declined 2.3 percent.
But investment firm Qalaa Holdings, the most heavily traded stock on the bourse, rose 3.7 percent; it had jumped 8.5 percent in record volume on Thursday. The shares are up 29.7 percent since the devaluation of the pound.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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