* FTSEurofirst 300 down 0.3 pct, slips from 7-year high
* German exports decline far more than expected
* EDF dips again on worries over potential tie-up with Areva (Adds quote, updates prices)
By Blaise Robinson and Alistair Smout
PARIS/LONDON, March 9 (Reuters) - European shares fell on Monday with investors booking recent lofty gains as the European Central Bank begins its programme of bond purchases, aimed at boosting inflation and growth.
The market has rallied strongly since the start of the year, with the FTSEurofirst 300 surging over 14 percent in the run-up to the start of the ECB’s quantitative easing programme, under which it will buy 60 billion euros a month of bonds.
“It’s ‘buy the rumour, sell the news’. European stocks have jumped 15 percent since the start of the year and the positive impact from QE has broadly been priced in by now,” Saxo Bank trader Pierre Martin said.
“Investors’ expectations are now higher, and with sluggish German exports data this morning and doubts over when the Fed will start raising rates, people are tempted to just book profits.”
The drop in European stocks on Monday mirrored a sell-off on Wall Street on Friday, where strong U.S. jobs data fanned expectations that the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates sooner than previously thought.
Also weighing on sentiment on Monday, data showed German exports in January fell by the largest amount since August, dropping far more than expected and raising worries over the outlook for Europe’s biggest economy.
At 1211 GMT, the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares was down 0.3 percent at 1,566.10 points, slipping from a seven-year high hit last week.
Greek banking shares were among the biggest losers, with Bank of Piraeus down 7.8 percent and National Bank of Greece 8.7 percent lower ahead of a meeting of euro zone finance ministers to discuss reforms pledged by Athens.
The chair of the meeting, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said the proposals, set out in a letter last week, were not enough to unlock further aid.
“Dijsselbloem was by no means enamoured by the latest Greek proposal. Maybe the market shrugged Greece off too quickly after the initial deal, as clearly there is still much to discuss,” Jeremy Batstone-Carr, market analyst at Charles Stanley, said.
Investors were also rattled by data from China showing a slide in imports, while the Bank of France cut its growth forecast for the French economy for the first quarter to 0.3 percent from 0.4 percent.
Shares in European property groups also retreated. Unibail was down 2.4 percent and Klepierre 2.2 percent as traders cited a downbeat research note by JPMorgan. The bank downgraded its rating on the two stocks to ‘neutral’ from ‘overweight’, citing valuation levels.
Shares in French utility EDF fell 3.5 percent on worries over the prospect of a tie-up with loss-making nuclear group Areva. French Energy Minister Segolene Royal said on Monday all options were on the table regarding a link-up between EDF and Areva, including an outright merger.
Swiss cement group Holcim rose 1.1 percent and French peer Lafarge slid 1.5 percent after Swiss weekly SonntagsZeitung reported Holcim’s largest stakeholder, Thomas Schmidheiny, wants a better deal for Holcim’s shareholders in the merger between the two groups.
Europe bourses in 2015: link.reuters.com/pap87v
Asset performance in 2015: link.reuters.com/gap87v
Today’s European research round-up
Editing by Mark Heinrich