European Equities Lower Ahead of Greek Decision

Markets Dow Jones Newswires

European stock markets opened lower on Monday, with investors striking a cautious tone ahead of a key meeting, where eurozone finance ministers will take another stab at ending the standoff between Greece and its lenders.

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The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 0.3% to 375.91, pulling back after posting a 1% gain last week. Greece's Athex Composite index slumped 3.9% to 858.91, with banks posting the biggest slides. Alpha Bank AE dropped 8.9%, and Piraeus Bank SA lost 8.3%.

Greece remained in the spotlight as Eurogroup finance ministers prepared to meet in Brussels to discuss the new Greek government's demand to change the terms of its bailout program. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has refused to ask for an extension of the current rescue plan -- which expires at the end of the month -- unless Greece's lenders agree to greater leniency on debt repayments and on austerity measures. But earlier negotiations have ended in a deadlock, raising fears among market participants that Greece could end up leaving the eurozone.

Read: 5 things you need to know about the Greek debt showdown

Greek officials met with the country's group of international lenders over the weekend. They aimed to identify areas where the government's plans are compatible with the existing bailout agreement and areas where they are not.

"Time and money are running out for Greece. A subtle change in tone in Athens suggests that the new Greek government has started to notice," economists at Berenberg said in a note.

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"But whether Prime Minister Tsipras has really grasped how close he has already pushed Greece to the abyss of wholesale financial crisis, recession and 'Grexit', and whether he is ready to perform the inevitable U-turn to avoid that fate, remains a very open question."

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said over the weekend he believes a deal will be reached at the 11th hour.

Other markets: Germany's DAX 30 index was slightly lower at 10,961.16, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 index off 0.1% at 6,870.12, while France's CAC 40 index was marginally higher at 4.760.83.

The euro (EURUSD) rose to $1.1421 from $1.1391 late Friday.

Movers: Total SA fell 0.9% after Credit Suisse cut the oil giant to neutral from outperform.

On a more upbeat note, Airbus Group NV added 1.6% after Credit Suisse lifted the plane maker to outperform from underperform.