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DUBAI, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Bank shares were the main drag on most stock markets in the Gulf on Thursday on a lack of direction from the minutes of a U.S. Federal Reserve meeting that showed little support for a March rate rise and as oil traded in a range around $56.40 a barrel.
Saudi Arabia's index edged 0.3 percent lower after an hour of trade with half of the listed lenders declining. Saudi British Bank lost 1.3 percent and National Commercial Bank fell 0.7 percent.
Bank sector analysts expect a rising interest rate environment in 2017 would bode well for lenders in the region, boosting their net interest margins, although lower rates and easing liquidity concerns may encourage the private sector to borrow more.
Shares in real-estate company Taiba Holding dropped 1.5 percent after its board recommended paying a cash dividend of 0.4 riyals ($0.11) per share for the fourth quarter of 2016, taking the full year dividend to 1.6 riyals, compared to 2.0 riyals paid to shareholders in 2015.
In Abu Dhabi, where banks make up almost half of the total market value, three blue chips fell, dragging the index 0.2 percent lower. National Bank of Abu Dhabi was down 1.0 percent.
Dubai's main index, which outperformed its peers on Wednesday, fell 0.4 percent on profit taking. Builder Drake & Scull fell 2.4 percent and Dubai Islamic Bank fell 0.3 percent.
Qatar's main index dipped 0.1 percent as telecoms operator Ooredoo dropped 3.2 percent after reporting nearly flat fourth-quarter net profit attributable to shareholders of 361 million riyals ($99.15 million).
The company's board recommended a cash dividend of 3.5 Qatari riyals per share for 2016, higher than the outlay in 2015 of 3.0 riyals per share.
Qatar Islamic Bank fell 0.6 percent and rival Masraf Al Rayan lost 0.7 percent.
$1 = 3.6410 Qatar riyals $1 = 3.7501 riyals Reporting by Celine Aswad; Editing by David Evans