Saudi Arabia’s benchmark stock index plunged to a nine-month low, leading a drop in Middle East markets, on concern clashes in Libya that caused oil prices to surge to a more than two-year high will stall a global recovery.
Al-Rajhi Bank, the kingdom’s largest publicly traded lender by market value, dropped 5.2 percent and Saudi Basic Industries Corp., the world’s largest petrochemicals maker, tumbled to the lowest since October. Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index slid a 10th day, slumping 5 percent to 5,950.64, the lowest since June 6, at the 3:30 p.m. close in Riyadh. The measure has lost 11 percent since Tunisia’s former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country amid protests that spurred similar uprisings in nations across the region. Oman’s measure decreased 2.8 percent as protests erupted in the sultanate.
“With no clear end to the geo-political turmoil in the region, local investors are erring on the side of caution,” said Amro Halwani, senior equity sales trader at Shuaa Capital PSC in Riyadh. “The regional uncertainty, with Libya this week’s reason to sell, has pushed fundamentals out of the picture. The surge in oil is an ongoing threat of a possible derailing in the global economic recovery, and gave investors a reason to move away from riskier assets.”
The United Nations Security Council voted to freeze the foreign assets of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and four aides and to bar them from traveling, in the broadest international effort to halt the attacks. Protests calling for the ouster of Qaddafi have been met with a violent crackdown. Qaddafi has bolstered defenses in the capital, Tripoli, and launched counter-strikes against opponents who have seized much of the rest of the country.
Crude for April delivery surged as much as 5.4 percent to $103.41 a barrel on Feb. 24, the highest intraday price since September 2008, on estimates that Libya has lost as much as two- thirds of its oil output. Libya is the largest holder of crude oil reserves on the African continent.
Al-Rajhi fell the most since May 25 to 73 riyals and Sabic decreased 3.4 percent to 93 riyals, the lowest since Oct. 23. About 237 million shares traded on Saudi Arabia’s bourse today, compared with a one-year daily average of about 137 million.
In Oman, police fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters in the industrial city of Sohar, Reuters reported, citing unidentified witnesses. The protesters were demanding political reforms, it said. Demonstrations were also taking place in the southern town of Salalah.
Oman’s benchmark MSM 30 Index dropped to 6,458.37, the lowest since September, led by Renaissance Services SAOG. The provider of services to the oil and gas industry slumped 6.8 percent to 1.085 rials, the lowest since Dec. 21.
Egypt’s exchange, closed since the end of trading on Jan. 27, will resume operations on March 1, the Cabinet said today. The head of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority Ziad Bahaa El-Din has resigned and will be replaced temporarily by Ashraf El Sharkawy, the Cabinet said. The EGX 30 Index lost 16 percent in the week before trading was halted. An 18-day popular revolt forced Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak out on Feb. 11.
Dubai’s DFM General Index fell 0.9 percent after earlier rising as much as 1.9 percent. Emaar Properties PJSC, builder of the world’s tallest skyscraper, dropped to the lowest since February 2010, losing 2.4 percent to 2.85 dirhams. The shares had gained as much as 2.1 percent earlier today and are down 20 percent so far this year. Abu Dhabi’s General Index climbed 0.6 percent.
“We will see heightened volatility until we see a clear resolution to the unrest in the region,” said Omair Ansari, equity strategist at Gulfmena Alternative Investments in Dubai. “With lack of market participation by many institutional investors, spikes are occurring on low volumes led by retail.”
Bahrain’s BB All Share Index advanced 0.3 percent, while Qatar’s QE Index slipped 0.2 percent. Kuwait’s bourse was closed for a national holiday.
In Israel, the TA-25 Index of stocks rose 1.7 percent, the most this year, at the close in Tel Aviv. Israeli bonds gained, with the yield on the benchmark 5 percent Mimshal Shiklit note maturing January 2020 declining 6 basis points to 5.04 percent.
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