* Italy ad sales slightly down in Q1, higher in April
* Hard to make reliable forecast on Italy, Spain trends
* FY operating profit 246 mln euros vs 206 mln expected
* CFO cools down speculation of pay-TV stake sale
(Adds quote, detail on April ad sales, comments on pay-TV)
MILAN, March 25 Italy's biggest TV broadcaster
Mediaset, having beaten 2013 profit expectations by
cutting costs more than anticipated, said advertising trends in
its core Italian and Spanish markets this year were
unpredictable due to economic uncertainty.
"It's impossible to make any forecast. Much will depend on
the economic recovery, on consumption trends especially in the
consumer goods and automotive sectors," Luigi Colombo, head of
Mediaset's advertising arm Publitalia, told a conference call.
The company, controlled by former Italian prime minister
Silvio Berlusconi, said advertising sales in Italy in the first
three months of 2014 were still slightly negative but improved
markedly in April.
Colombo said the April growth so far was a high single-digit
rate. Ad spaces are sold in advance, so most of April has
already been marketed.
Mediaset, which makes the bulk of its turnover by selling
advertising spaces on its free-to-air channels such as Canale 5,
said revenues fell about 8 percent to 3.41 billion euros in
2013, hit by an economic recession.
The figure was slightly below a Thomson Reuters analyst
consensus of 3.44 billion euros.
Big spenders such as the auto sector, food companies and
telecoms operators cut their spending on Mediaset outlets
between 10 and 20 percent last year. Only financial companies
increased advertising by around 6 percent.
Earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) turned to a profit
of 246 million euros in 2013 from a loss of 235 million euros in
2012, beating a Thomson Reuters analyst consensus for 206
Cuts to TV staff and other operating costs and lower
investment in Italian business generated cash savings of 617
million euros in 2013 compared to 2011.
That is above Mediaset's original target of 450 million
euros by end 2014.
The group returned to an annual profit of 8.9 million euros
in 2013 after posting in 2012 its first ever annual net loss of
287 million euros due write-downs on sports TV rights.
CFO Marco Giordani said Mediaset was not studying any sale
of a stake in its Italian pay-TV business Mediaset Premium even
though it has received unsolicited acquisition proposals.
($1 = 0.7258 Euros)
(Reporting by Danilo Masoni; Editing by Stephen Jewkes and