DUBAI, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Middle Eastern stock markets may be sluggish on Monday after Saudi Arabia plunged on Sunday because of concern over the impact of government austerity measures and the risk of more such steps.
The Saudi index sank 3.1 percent to 5,448 points, its lowest close since March 2011. It is now approaching major technical support on the March 2011 intra-day low of 5,232, which may be tested in coming days or weeks.
After the close on Sunday, the central bank gave commercial banks instructions to reschedule consumer loans of customers hit by civil service pay cuts, and the rules suggest banks will be required to bear much of the cost of the process - for example, they will not be allowed to deduct more than a third of customers' monthly net income to make loan payments. Local media had said banks were lobbying for permission to deduct up to 40 percent.
However, Zain Saudi could attract some interest after it said the terms of the government's decision to extend its licence would reduce its annual amortisation charge by 433 million riyals ($115.5 million), cutting its net losses by the same amount. The stock was suspended on Sunday pending its statement.
Most other major Middle Eastern stock markets were shut on Sunday for an Islamic New Year holiday. The global market environment is modestly positive - December Brent oil is just below $50 a barrel, and MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan is 0.8 percent higher - but Saudi Arabia's instability may keep investors cautious. (Reporting by Andrew Torchia)