March 20, 2018 / 2:32 PM / 4 months ago

MIDEAST STOCKS-Qatar outperforms in soft Gulf markets

* Qatar index at three-week high

* In Saudi, Al Rajhi Bank up 1.7 percent

* Kingdom Holding barely moves on Alwaleed comments

* Abu Dhabi index down, Dubai flat

* Emaar Properties up, Aldar down before partnership news

By Tom Arnold

DUBAI, March 20 (Reuters) - Qatar’s stocks outperformed in generally weak Gulf markets on Tuesday as investors awaited a U.S. interest rate hike expected at the Federal Reserve policy meeting on Wednesday.

In Qatar, the index rose 1.0 percent to its highest level in just over three weeks. The Al Rayan Qatar exchange-traded fund will list on Wednesday, giving the market a second locally listed ETF as part of efforts to improve liquidity and attract more investment.

Drilling rig provider Gulf International Services was the top gainer, rising 9.8 percent in unusually heavy trade, while Qatari Investors Group climbed 4.1 percent.

Qatar National Bank, which had attracted buying in recent days due to its move to boost foreign ownership limit, was sold off on Tuesday. It closed 0.4 percent lower.

The region’s biggest market, Saudi Arabia, was up 0.2 percent with financial stocks among the largest gainers ahead of an expected decision by FTSE at the end of this month to include Riyadh in its secondary emerging market index.

Al Rajhi Bank, the kingdom’s second largest bank by assets, rose 1.7 percent, while Saudi British Bank was up 2.3 percent.

“It’s been a waiting game until March 28 when a decision by FTSE is expected,” said Khaled Feda, senior research manager at Alistithmar Capital. “The banking sector is outperforming the Saudi market year-to-date. We expect nine out of the 12 listed banks to be included in the index.”

Kingdom Holding barely moved, edging up just 0.2 percent after chairman Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, in an interview with Bloomberg after his release from detention in the country’s crackdown on corruption, said he had signed a secret agreement with authorities and declined to give any details.

He also said Kingdom was looking at splitting its $13 billion of assets by spinning off some domestic property and other holdings.

The Abu Dhabi index was down 0.4 percent with First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) unchanged. On Monday FAB, the United Arab Emirates’ biggest lender, denied a claim by Qatari authorities that it had tried to manipulate the Qatari riyal.

Aldar Properties was down 2.7 percent. In an announcement after the market close, Dubai’s ruler said Aldar and Emaar Properties, the top Dubai-based developer, were partnering to launch local and international projects worth 30 billion dirhams ($8.2 billion).

The Dubai index was flat as banks dropped but healthcare and industrial firms edged higher. Emaar Properties rose 1.0 percent.

SAUDI ARABIA

* The index rose 0.2 percent to 7,725 points.

DUBAI

* The index lost 0.02 percent to 3,183 points.

ABU DHABI

* The index fell 0.4 percent to 4,525 points.

QATAR

* The index rose 1.0 percent to 8,978 points.

EGYPT

* The index dipped 0.3 percent to 17,114 points.

KUWAIT

* The index edged down 0.6 to 6,706 points.

BAHRAIN

* The index went down 0.5 percent to 1,341 points.

OMAN

* The index edged down 1.05 percent to 4,782 points. (Editing by Andrew Torchia and David Evans)

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