European shares pegged back by lingering concerns over Greece

LONDON - European shares slipped lower on Monday as lingering concerns over Greece's debt situation pegged back the region's stock markets.

Shares in plane maker Airbus also fell after an Airbus A400M military transport plane crashed outside Seville on Saturday, killing four test crew and prompting Britain and Germany to ground Europe's new troop and cargo carrier.

The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index edged down by 0.1 per cent to 1,589.10 points in early session trading, with Airbus shares falling 3 per cent to make them the worst performers on the FTSEurofirst 300.

Greece's government remains hopeful that a meeting of euro zone finance ministers on Monday will note progress in talks with lenders on a cash-for-reforms deal and pave the way for an easing of Greece's cash crunch, a government official said on Sunday.

The Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers have ruled out clinching a deal to unlock aid for Greece at Monday's meeting, saying too many issues remain unresolved.

Officials have said any statement they make is unlikely to be enough to allow the European Central Bank to raise the limit on short-term Treasury bills that Greek banks can buy, a move that would help avert a Greek national bankruptcy.

Some traders expected an eventual deal on Greece to be reached, but added that most investors would refrain from buying up new equity positions while the situation remained uncertain.

"I think a deal will be done, it's just a case of when. But I can't imagine that too many people will want to bet too heavily on the markets until a deal is done," said Central Markets' trading analyst Joe Neighbour.

Among stocks gaining ground, shares in Belgian supermarket chain Delhize and Dutch retailer Ahold surged 12.6 per cent and 8 per cent respectively after Belgian newspapers reported that the two companies had begun talks on a possible merger.