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Saudi Arabia rises ahead of opening to foreigners

Fayex Nureldine | AFP | Getty Images

Saudi Arabia's bourse rose on Sunday ahead of its opening to direct foreign investment, though it remained unclear if any foreign funds would be able to buy local shares when the new regulations take effect on Monday.

The main Saudi stock index climbed 1.3 percent, buoyed by blue chips which are seen as most likely to be targeted by foreign investors, and have been included in a provisional benchmark by index compiler MSCI. Turnover was modest.

Petrochemicals giant Saudi Basic Industries jumped 2.3 percent despite weak oil prices. Miner Ma'aden surged 3.7 percent and National Commercial Bank, the biggest Saudi Arabian lender, added 1.2 percent.

Qualified foreign investors with licences from the kingdom's Capital Market Authority will be able to buy local stocks from Monday, after previously being limited to indirect channels such as swaps.

But the CMA has yet to announce the award of any licences, and it is not clear when the agency will grant the first batch. Only one institution, Ashmore Group, has publicly declared it has applied for a licence; John Sfakianakis, Riyadh-based Middle East Director at Ashmore, told Reuters on Sunday that it expected to receive it this month. He did not elaborate.

Even if a number of foreign institutions are licensed quickly, there are other reasons to think there will not be any big surge of foreign fund inflows for many months.

Saudi equities valuations are currently high by international standards, while trading activity in general is likely to decline during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which will start around June 18.

Also, MSCI this month chose not to start the formal procedure for the inclusion of Saudi Arabia in its emerging markets index, saying it wanted to monitor the market's accessibility first. Some analysts have said this could delay Saudi Arabia's eventual inclusion until mid-2018, although others believe the $556 billion bourse, the largest in the Middle East, could be fast-tracked.

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Passively managed funds tracking MSCI will not enter Saudi Arabia until it is included in the index. Actively managed funds may move earlier, but they will be constrained by tight restrictions on foreign ownership imposed by the regulator, and by operational issues such as a requirement for same-day settlement.

UAE, Egypt

Other Gulf markets were mixed in the absence of strong catalysts. Dubai's bourse rose 0.6 percent to 4,098 points but closed well off its intra-day high of 4,148 points.

Emaar Properties, the emirate's biggest listed developer, was the main support, jumping 2.1 percent. The firm's Egyptian subsidiary, Emaar Misr, is carrying out a placement of its shares among institutional investors and plans to announce the final price this week before opening a public offer to retail investors in Cairo.

Dubai-listed shares of Kuwaiti firm Al Madina for Finance and Investment, which are not part of the main index, surged 7.7 percent after the company reported a 71 percent decrease in first-quarter net loss per share.

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But Amlak Finance, another off-index stock, tumbled its daily 10 percent limit for the second session in a row. Shares in the mortgage lender had more than doubled in price earlier this month after it resumed trading following a six-year suspension during which it restructured debt.

Abu Dhabi's index slipped 0.3 percent and two stocks sensitive to oil prices, Abu Dhabi National Energy Co and Dana Gas dropped 4.1 and 2.3 percent respectively.

Egypt's market fell 1.1 percent as most stocks declined and trading volume shrank for a third session in a row. Some retail investors may be selling stocks in order to free up cash for the Emaar Misr offer.

Global Telecom fell 3.5 percent after posting on Thursday a first quarter net loss of $82 million versus a net profit of $39 million in the same period last year, confirming earlier unaudited figures.