Investors will be watching Saudi Arabia closely this week as the earnings season begins and the first results provide clues about the health of the broader region.
Saudi companies must report by the third week of January, and some could report results as early as this week.
"People will be looking at year-end results and looking at who will distribute what [dividends], and the results will dictate going into the first quarter which shares of companies investors want to be in," said Mohammed Ali Yasin, the chief investment officer at CAPM Investment in Abu Dhabi.
Analysts are expecting positive results from the petrochemical sector on the back of higher oil price.
That view was borne out by the first day of trading yesterday on Saudi Arabia's Tadawul All-Share Index, where stocks rose to their highest level in almost eight months, led by petrochemicals and builders. Oil surged to its highest year-end price since 2007 and investors started the year with expectations companies will post encouraging quarterly earnings.
SABIC, the world's largest petrochemical maker, Saudi Industrial Investment Group, and Arabian Pipes paced the rally. The 146-company Tadawul-All Share Index rose 0.3 per cent to 6,640.45, the highest since May 15, at 1:57pm yesterday in Riyadh.
:The price of oil shifted into high gear in the last quarter of last year and that pushed investors to bet big on fattened oil company profits," said Amro Halwani, a trader at Shuaa Capital PSC in Riyadh. "People are pinning in their hopes on growth in corporate earnings as it is starting to look more and more entrenched."
The average oil price in the fourth quarter of last year was about US$84 a barrel. Initially, there were fears that results would be dragged down after India imposed anti-dumping duties on Saudi polypropylene, produced by companies such as SABIC, TASNEE and Advanced Petrochemical, but analysts say the impact will be minor.
"We do not forecast this move to have a significant impact on the fourth quarter results," said Tariq al Alaiwat at NCB Capital in Riyadh.
Investors in the UAE will be hoping to see daily trading activity pick up. The Dubai Financial Market (DFM) General Index gained 0.6 per cent last week as the Dubai property developer Nakheel said it received funds from the Dubai Government to pay a sukuk that matures this month. The Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX) General Index gained 0.5 per cent during the same period.
In Saudi Arabia, some companies have already started announcing what kind of dividend they will be distributing, Mr Yasin said. SABIC recommended 2 Saudi riyals per share for the second half of the year.
Provisioning for Saudi banks is expected to continue because many had not made full provisions for the effects of the global financial crisis in 2009, Mr Yasin said.
But their profits should be helped by a record Saudi budget, released on December 20, that envisioned a 7.4 per cent increase in state expenditures this year to 580bn riyals.
"A lot of fund managers are saying 'let the full year results come out, then we will start to accumulate'," Mr Yassin said.
Prospects for cement companies appear to be much brighter.
"We believe the outlook for the listed [cement] companies is stronger Ö because the incremental market share being taken by non-listed private cement companies has slowed down significantly," said Farouk Miah, a cement analyst at NCB Capital in Riyadh. Mr Miah forecasts high dividend yields for last year for Saudi cement firms, at about the 7 per cent mark.
The Saudi Tadawul All-Share Index closed last year at 6,620.75, having risen 8.1 per cent over the course of the year.
In the UAE, the ADX General Index finished the year 0.8 per cent lower at 2,719.87, while the DFM General Index had lost 12.6 per cent over the course of the year to close at 1,630.52 on the final trading day.
Elsewhere in the region: Kuwait's measure lost 0.7 per cent last year, finishing the period at 6,955.5; Omanrose 6 per cent to 6,754.9 for the year; and Qatar advanced 24.7 per cent to 8,681.65.