Markets were steady Monday ahead of a meeting of European finance ministers that is expected to pave the way for a second massive bailout for Greece that will prevent the debt-ridden country's imminent bankruptcy.
Ministers from the 17 countries that use the euro are meeting later and Greece will again be at the top of the agenda. After last week's broadly successful bond swap with its private creditors, Greece will hope that it has met the conditions its partners in the eurozone attached before they finally rubber-stamp the country's euro130 billion ($171.48 billion) financial rescue.
Though the bond swap, which shaves some euro105 billion ($138 billion) off Greece's euro368 billion ($485 billion) debt mountain, is likely to give Greece some breathing-room to enact another round of austerity and reform measures, many analysts think the country's debt remains unsustainable.
The country, which has seen its economic output shrink by around a fifth since the financial crisis began in 2008, also faces elections sometime over the next two months and there are some concerns in the markets that the outcome may dent the zeal for austerity and reform.
"Greek elections might well result in a fragile coalition government in which there is stiffer opposition to austerity measures," said Neil MacKinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital. "Our view is that it is difficult to see how Greece can avoid a further round of debt restructuring in the medium term."
Sentiment was also tempered by news that Greece's debt reduction deal with private creditors could cause losses for banks after the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, the private organization that rules on such cases, ruled that a "restructuring credit event" occurred.
That means Greece's debt relief will trigger payouts of so-called credit default swaps, a type of insurance on bonds. But the ISDA said overall payouts will be significantly below the $3.2 billion in net outstanding credit default swap contracts linked to Greece. The exact level of payouts will be determined on March 19.
"Arguably the declaration of a credit event is a better outcome for other peripheral debt markets in so far at it should reduce the chances of a buyers strike in the future," said Jane Foley, an analyst at Rabobank International. "That said there is little cause for celebration in Europe at present; Greece may have averted a messy default this month but it would take a die-hard optimist to believe that Greece's problems are over."
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was flat at 5,886 while Germany's DAX rose 0.3 percent to 6,903. The CAC-40 in France was 0.1 percent higher at 3,450.
Wall Street was poised for a steady opening with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures broadly unchanged.
There was little activity in the currency markets either with the euro 0.1 percent higher on the day at $1.3128.
Earlier in Asia, sentiment was weighed down by weekend news that China reported its biggest monthly trade deficit in at least a decade in February as imports rebounded after a Lunar New Year holiday slowdown in January. But the combined figures for both months showed growth in imports and exports decelerating markedly.
Mainland Chinese shares were mixed, with the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index falling 0.2 percent to 2,434.86. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index gained 0.4 percent to 999.63. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.2 percent to 21,134.18 after spending much of the day in negative territory.
Japan's Nikkei 225 Index fell 0.4 percent to 9,889.86 and South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.8 percent to 2,002.50.
Oil prices fell after four days of rises _ benchmark oil for April delivery was down 76 cents to $106.64 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.
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