Most Gulf stock markets fell on Thursday as the number of coronavirus cases across the region climbed, with Saudi's index the exception as banking stocks lifted it to a slightly higher close.
The number of novel coronavirus cases in the six Gulf Arab states has doubled in a month to more than 400,000, as the region's two biggest economies this week fully lifted curfews imposed to combat the infection.
Saudi Arabia's benchmark index was up 0.3%. Samba Financial Group (Samba) 1090.SE closed 4.1% higher before it and National Commercial Bank (NCB), the country's largest lender, asked the stock exchange to suspend trading for one session ahead of a material announcement.
Citing sources, Reuters reported that the lenders are in early talks about a merger.
NCB, shares of which closed flat on Thursday, abandoned a plan to merge with Riyad Bank in December. Riyad Bank closed 3.4% higher.
Dubai's main share index lost 0.6%, weighed down by a 1.1% fall in Emirates NBD Bank and a 0.7% drop in blue-chip developer Emaar Properties.
Emirates NBD, Dubai's largest lender, began cutting hundreds of jobs this week after the coronavirus crisis accelerated planned lay-offs, Reuters reported, citing three sources.
Although the full scale of the redundancies was not immediately clear, one source estimated Emirates NBD was cutting some 10% of its staff, equivalent to around 800 people.
In Abu Dhabi the index retreated 1%, with First Abu Dhabi Bank down 1.6%.
The Qatari index eased 0.4%, hurt by a 1.6% decline in the Gulf's largest lender Qatar National Bank.
Fitch Ratings on Wednesday said that Qatar's banks are at risk of volatile external funding conditions.
In Egypt, the index was down 1.3% with most of its constituents falling. Commercial International Bank Egypt led the losers with a drop of 2%.
(Reporting by Maqsood Alam in Bengaluru) ((Maqsood.Alam@thomsonreuters.com;))