Most major stock markets in the Gulf ended lower on Thursday amid concerns about the continuing spread of the Delta coronavirus variant and Fed tapering, while banks bolstered the Qatari index.

"GCC equities were affected by the US Federal Reserve's minutes publication. The release revealed diverging opinions among its members regarding various topics, however, they were all in tune regarding the necessity to stop its asset repurchasing program by the end of the year," Daniel Takieddine, senior market analyst at FXPrimus.

Saudi Arabia's benchmark index retreated 1.3%, dragged down by a 2.8% fall in Saudi Telecom Company and a 2.6% drop in Dr Sulaiman Al-Habib Medical Services.

The Saudi stocks also felt the jolt from declining oil prices which fell below $66 a barrel, the lowest since May, pressured by concerns about weaker demand as COVID-19 cases rise, a stronger U.S. dollar and a surprise increase in U.S. gasoline inventories. 

But, shares of apparel retailer Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Co climbed 3.1% after it posted quarterly net profit of 45.7 million riyals ($12.19 million), compared to a loss of 535.6 million riyals year ago. 

The Qatari index rose 0.3%, with Commercial Bank and Qatar Islamic Bank  both advancing 3.6%.

The Gulf state's cabinet approved to increase the percentage of non-Qatari ownership in the capital of Qatar National Bank, Qatar Islamic Bank, Commercial Bank and Al Rayan Bank to reach 100% — a move that could attract more liquidity to the bourse. 

Islamic lender Masraf Al Rayan was up 1.9%.

Dubai's main share index fell 0.8%, pressured by a 2.5% fall in Emirates NBD Bank.

Separately, Dubai's DP World, one of the world's biggest port operators, said on Thursday profit jumped almost 52% in the first half of 2021, fuelled by higher consumer spending and a rebound in global trade since the pandemic. 

In Abu Dhabi, the index retreated 1%, a day after it touched a record high, with Emirates Telecommunications Group shedding 2.3% and the country's largest lender First Abu Dhabi Bank declining 1.3%.

Outside the Gulf, Egypt's blue-chip index lost 0.9%, as most of the stocks on the index were in negative territory including Commercial International Bank. which was down 1.9%.

** Bahrain was closed for a public holiday.

(471W, 4214C)($1 = 3.7503 riyals)

(Reporting by Ateeq Shariff in Bengaluru Editing by Frances Kerry) ((; +918061822788;))