Financial crisis hits Mediaset hard

$2 billion wiped from Berlusconi’s shares

Chaos in the money markets has knocked more than $2 billion off the shares owned by Mediaset controller and Italo premier Silvio Berlusconi.

The media mogul-turned-pol remains one of the world’s richest leaders, but the global financial meltdown has stripped away a quarter of his wealth, according to a Forbes magazine report.

Only last week Berlusconi was urging panicking Italians not to dump stocks. But even the irrepressible Berlusconi was unable to buck the market.

Italy’s stock market has been among the hardest hit: The 38% decline it’s seen so far this year makes it the worst-affected of Europe’s big finance centers. A 34% drop in the value of Mediaset shares since May accounts for well over half of Berlusconi’s losses.

But he also lost $231 million on his 35% stake in Mediolanum, Italy’s biggest Internet bank, and $615 million on his stake in the Mondadori Editore publisher.

Mediaset’s advertising supremo Giuliano Adreani insisted at a meeting Monday night, however, that he was “quite optimistic” about full-year growth on ad revenues.

“The moment is very difficult, but we are closing the first nine months and we are among the very few that are positive,” Adreani said.

Mediaset’s first-half advertising sales in Italy were up 2.2% at E1.56 billion ($2.11 billion).

But Mediaset analysts such as Alessandro Bai-Badino of Deutsche Bank have warned that the picture for the whole year may not look so good.

And other economists say that Italy’s sclerotic economy, with its high debt levels and endless red tape, will not be quick to recover from the current slowdown.