Stock markets in Saudi Arabia and Qatar started the month on a positive note on Thursday, as both the indexes extended gains to a third session after investors pinned their hopes on a slowdown in the pace of monetary tightening by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell said the U.S. central bank could scale back the pace of its interest rate hikes "as soon as December," but cautioned the fight against inflation was far from over.

Most Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) have their currencies pegged to the dollar and generally follow the Fed's policy moves, exposing the region to a direct impact from any monetary tightening by the Fed.

Investors worldwide are also pinning their hopes on slower U.S. rate hikes, fuelling optimism about an economic recovery at a pace faster than expected.

Crude prices - a key catalyst for the Gulf's financial markets - fell in Asian trade as uncertainty lingered ahead of Sunday's OPEC+ meeting, although easing COVID-19 curbs at the world's top crude importer China capped the drop.

Saudi Arabia's benchmark, which posted its monthly loss in November, was up marginally to 0.1% in morning trade.

Sahara International Petrochemical (Sipchem) jumped 4.6% after announcing a 1.50 riyals per share cash dividend for the second half of 2022.

Oil behemoth and index heavyweight Saudi Aramco fell 0.5%.

In Qatar, the benchmark index gained 0.5% with petrochemical maker Industries Qatar gaining nearly 1.6%.

The Kuwait benchmark declined 0.1% and Boubyan Bank fell 0.8%.

** The markets in the United Arab Emirates are closed for a public holiday and will reopen on Friday.

(Reporting by Shamsuddin Mohd in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)