European shares fell to their lowest closing level since the start of 2012 after attempts to form a Greek government collapsed, hitting heavyweight financial stocks, and traders said markets could slump further in the coming days.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index fell 0.7 per cent to 997.70 points - the first time it had closed down below 1,000 points since 29 December.
It had earlier fallen as much as 1.1 per cent to an intraday low of 993.05 points, its lowest intraday level since 30 December when it reached 991.90 points.
The benchmark Athens index fell 3.6 per cent to a fresh 20-year low, while ongoing concerns over Spanish banks knocked Spain's IBEX index down to its lowest level since late 2003 - worse than where the IBEX was during the bankruptcy of Wall St bank Lehman Brothers in 2008.
"We're drifting down sideways. At the moment, a lot of money is being sidelined. People don't really know where to put it other than cash," said Hartmann Capital equities and derivatives sales trader Basil Petrides.
The Greek political impasse, which has raised fresh fears that Greece may have to leave the euro zone, took the shine off data showing stronger-than-forecast German economic growth, with Germany's DAX index ending down 0.8 per cent.
The euro zone STOXX banking index fell 3.4 per cent while fears over the economic outlook caused the Euro STOXX Volatility index to rise by 5.1 per cent to its highest level since mid-December.
The eurozone STOXX 50 index, an index that is closely tracked and traded by investors, also fell to its lowest level since the start of 2012, ending down 1.1 per cent at 2,178.67 points - its worst point since late November.
Traders said it could still decline further to below the 2,150 point level, before investors decided to buy back the index.
However, many said investors were just holding onto their cash reserves at present, given the uncertain environment.
Adrian Slack, head of equities at Bastion Capital, said stock markets remained vulnerable to a further sell-off while problems involving Greece remained unresolved.
"Until we see some clarity on that, the longer-term outlook looks quite bleak. The fears are that the market has got a bit more downside to go," he said.