March 12, 2018 / 8:18 AM / 13 days ago

MIDEAST STOCKS-QNB's leap lifts Qatar in early trade, most of region strong

DUBAI, March 12 (Reuters) - Qatar’s stock market rose sharply in early trade on Monday because of a jump by Qatar National Bank, after the bank said it would raise its ceiling for foreign ownership. Most other Gulf bourses were also firm.

The Qatari stock index climbed 2.3 percent as QNB, the Middle East’s biggest bank, rocketed 7.3 percent; it was the market’s most heavily traded stock.

QNB, in which the government is by far the biggest shareholder, said it would recommend to shareholders increasing its non-Qatari ownership ceiling to 49 percent of capital from 25 percent.

This may have little immediate impact on ownership; at present, foreign and GCC investors own only 7.2 percent of QNB, exchange data shows. But investors welcomed the news as a sign that authorities were willing to relax rules to bring more foreign money into the market.

Shares in some other government-affiliated Qatari companies with 25 percent foreign ownership limits also surged on hopes they might take the same action. Industries Qatar added 2.7 percent and Qatar International Islamic Bank rose 1.8 percent.

In Saudi Arabia, the index gained 0.8 percent in the first 45 minutes on the back of strong petrochemical stocks. The biggest, Saudi Basic Industries, added 1.2 percent and Saudi Industrial Investment Group, which had jumped 9.9 percent on Sunday after reporting annual profit increased more than ten-fold, rose a further 7.5 percent.

Exchange data released after the close on Sunday showed foreign investors were net buyers of Saudi stocks last week to the tune of $115 million, as they positioned for expected decisions by equity index compilers in the next few months to upgrade Riyadh to emerging market status.

Dubai’s index edged up 0.3 percent as Emirates NBD , which had soared 13.6 percent on Sunday, added a further 4.5 percent.

The emirate’s biggest bank said on Sunday that it would ask shareholders to approve a capital increase through the issuance of up to 7.35 billion dirhams ($2.0 billion) of new shares; analysts think this will mean raising ENBD’s 5 percent ceiling for foreign ownership. (Reporting by Andrew Torchia, editing by Louise Heavens)

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