Saudi Arabia’s benchmark stock index plunged the most since December 2008 on concern political unrest in the Middle East may spread to the kingdom.
Al-Rajhi Bank, the country’s largest publicly traded lender by market value, dropped 8.8 percent and Saudi Basic Industries Corp., the world’s biggest petrochemicals maker, tumbled to the lowest since September. Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index slumped 7.4 percent, dropping the most in the world, to 5,504.94 at 3:05 p.m. in Riyadh. The measure has lost 18 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. The gauge’s 12-day losing streak is the longest since 1998.
“Performance in Saudi exemplifies that geo-political risk still remains unresolved within the region,” said Omair Ansari, equity strategist at Gulfmena Alternative Investments in Dubai. “We still have rumors of protests within the kingdom for March 11 and 20, which provides for a level of uncertainty, even if they do not transpire. Markets will continue to capitulate due to the inability to price in top-down risk.”
Political turmoil in the region has spread to the Persian Gulf, with protests erupting in Oman and Bahrain inspired by popular uprisings that also toppled Egypt’s leader. Saudi Arabian authorities “should immediately release” Tawfiq al- Amir, a Shiite cleric in the country, who was apparently arrested after he called for a constitutional monarchy and equal rights for the Shiite minority, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on its website yesterday.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest exporter of oil and the largest Arab economy. Crude gained 0.3 percent to $97.25 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Al-Rajhi fell to 67 riyals, the lowest since September 2009. Sabic decreased 7.5 percent to 86.25 riyals.
Oman’s measure surged 4.1 percent after slumping 4.9 percent yesterday. The DFM General Index rose 1 percent. Kuwait’s SE Price Index dropped 2.5 percent and Bahrain’s BB All Share Index fell 0.5 percent. Abu Dhabi’s ADX General Index retreated 0.6 percent.
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