Mediaset Approaches Three-Year High on Italy's Stock Exchange

The shares could soon surge past €4 for the first time since the first half of 2011, despite the continued legal and political woes of founder Silvio Berlusconi.

ROME – Shares in Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset continue to rise on Milan’s Italian Stock Exchange despite the continued woes of the company’s founder, with shares touching a new 52-week high in heavy trading on Thursday.

Mediaset touched €3.93 ($5.34), before retreating to close at €3.75 ($5.11). For the day, shares were up nearly 5 percent in heavier-than-usual trading, The shares are the biggest gainers so far this year on the Milan bourse, and are up more than 350 percent since setting their all-time low of €1.16 ($1.58) in December 2012.

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If the shares break through the €4.00 ($5.44) barrier as many analysts predict for the coming sessions, it will be the first time they've crossed that threshold since May 2011.

And they have done it all despite serious legal and political problems from Berlusconi, the company’s 77-year-old founder and controlling shareholder.

Berlusconi has been convicted of tax evasion and false accounting in connection with Mediaset content deals, and is appealing lower court convictions for abuse of power, wire taps, bribery and paying a minor for sex. The three-time prime minister, who has been kicked out of the Italian Senate and will soon start a year of house arrest, has seen the political party he founded splinter and will soon likely face a lifetime ban from politics.

“There was a time when the fate of Mediaset and of Berlusconi were closely linked, but what we are seeing here is the message that what happens to Berlusconi doesn’t mean as much for Mediaset as it used to,” said Javier Noriega, chief economist with investment bankers Hildebrandt and Ferrar.

The shares have been helped by a series of analyst upgrades sparked by cost cutting and an improving ad market. Some analysts have set one-year target prices as high as €5.00 ($6.50), a level the shares last saw in 2010.

Mediaset is Italy’s largest private broadcaster, controlling three of the country’s seven national television networks, a major cinema production and distribution house, several print media and a major ad buyer.

Twitter: @EricJLyman