By Celine Aswad
DUBAI, April 19 (Reuters) - Construction-related shares underperformed Riyadh's stock market on Wednesday because of poor first-quarter earnings, though troubled Dubai builder Arabtec jumped after shareholders approved a capital restructuring plan.
Riyadh-listed Arabian Cement slid by 5 percent after reporting net profit for the three months to March 31 down 55 percent year on year, citing lower sales volumes and prices.
Other cement companies have also reported double-digit declines in quarterly earnings, with analysts saying the sector's outlook does not look promising. Government sources told Reuters this weak that the government is embarking on a review of unfinished projects to shelve some of them indefinitely as a cost-saving measure.
"The negative news flow on projects coming under review, and some being shelved, brings worries ... In our view, cement demand could plunge in a range of 20-25 percent and steel demand in excess of 15 percent," said Riyad Capital equities analyst Santhosh Balakrishnan.
Banking shares were buoyant, however, helping the main stock index into positive territory, up 0.1 percent.
Arab National Bank gained 1.3 percent after posting quarterly net profit up 2.5 percent year on year at 768 million riyals ($205 million), against NCB Capital's forecast of 631 million riyals.
Saudi Investment Bank rose 2.4 percent after reporting a 64 percent jump in quarterly profit, citing an increase in special commissions and fees from banking services.
Most Saudi banks have now reported earnings that were mostly flat or lower, with the exception of the two largest lenders, Al Rajhi and National Commercial Bank . Most results have come in ahead of analysts' expectations.
The Dubai index extended Tuesday's 0.9 percent gain by adding 0.3 percent. Arabtec surged by nearly 11 percent in its heaviest trade for two months on news that shareholders had approved its 1.5 billion dirham ($409 million) new share issue and a plan to use existing capital to wipe out accumulated losses.
Emaar Properties continued to be bid up, adding 1.3 percent after a gain of 3.3 percent on Tuesday. The stock has been strong since the company's annual general meeting on Monday.
Blue-chip stocks helped to carry Abu Dhabi's index 0.8 percent higher. Abu Dhabi Bank , the largest lender in the emirate, and Aldar Properties each added 0.9 percent.
Union National Bank jumped by 6.6 percent, having last week reported a small increase in net profit attributable to owners, at the higher end of analysts' estimates.
The Qatar index dropped 0.4 percent in a broad-based decline, with Qatar Electricity and Water the worst performer, losing 1.3 percent.
All 20 of the most valuable companies in Doha have now paid out their 2016 dividends, temporarily reducing the market's attraction for some investors.
In Egypt, the blue-chip index lost 1 percent on profit-taking.
Real estate developer Palm Hills Development fell 1.3 percent despite recording net new sales of 3.1 billion Egyptian pounds ($172 million) in the first quarter, up 58 percent year on year. Analysts at Pharos Research said this was the highest quarterly sales figure in the company's history.
Palm Hills also said it had raised its 2017 sales target to 9.5 billion pounds from 8.5 billion pounds.
* The index edged up 0.1 percent to 6,948 points.
* The index rose 0.3 percent to 3,506 points.
* The index was up 0.8 percent at 4,532 points.
* The index fell 0.4 percent to 10,296 points.
* The index lost 1 percent to 12,895 points.
* The index dropped 1.4 percent to 6,788 points.
* The index slipped by 0.3 percent to 5,511 points.
* The index was up 0.1 percent at 1,340 points. (Editing by Andrew Torchia and David Goodman) ((firstname.lastname@example.org)(+9715 6224 7653)(Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))