STOCKS NEWS MIDEAST-Mixed earnings in Saudi; Al Rajhi's Q4 miss may sour mood

Reuters Middle East

0545 GMT - Saudi Arabian firms have posted mixed fourth-quarter earnings so far but a significant miss by large-cap Al Rajhi Bank may dampen sentiment on Sunday.

The bank said after the close on Thursday that it made 1.55 billion riyals ($413 million) in the fourth quarter, trailing analysts' average forecast of 1.99 billion riyals.

Rajhi cited higher costs for the 19.1 percent drop in profit, which analysts believe may be due to construction sector troubles because of a government crackdown on illegal immigrants that resulted in a labour shortage.

Last week Banque Saudi Fransi posted a 66.1 percent decline in quarterly profit, citing higher costs; it later said general provisioning was behind the fall.

The overall stock market has been resilient to the impact of the labour shortage, however, which is widely expected to fade later this year. Saudi Arabia's index hit a new five-year high on Thursday, up 2.6 percent in January.

Petrochemical firms have helped the bourse gain on hopes of improved earnings, given a positive outlook for global demand for petrochemical products.

Sahara Petrochemical shares may see a boost after the firm on Thursday said its fourth-quarter profit nearly tripled as product prices increased.

Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC), one of the world's largest chemicals producers, is expected to post earnings on Sunday.

Shares in SABIC rose to 117.75 riyals on Thursday, their highest since September 2008, breaking above a major resistance level of 114.00 riyals, the peak in April 2011. This is long-term bullish for the stock.

Retailer Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co. may attract interest after posting on Thursday a 20.7 percent increase in third-quarter net profit to 133.3 million riyals. It slightly beat analysts' average estimate of 126.3 million riyals.

Elsewhere, Egypt's market is showing signs of a short-term pull-back after its strong rally, despite positive political news with last week's passage of a new constitution in a referendum.

The index has posted a negative 14-week momentum divergence, a classic sign of a pull-back; this coincies with a failed attempt to break major technical resistance on the January 2011 peak of 7,248 points. (Reporting by Nadia Saleem; Editing by Andrew Torchia)

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