UPDATE 3-SABMiller says emerging market beer drinkers driving growth
* EBITDA $3.27 billion, above estimates of $3.22 billion
* Adjusted EPS $1.20 vs consensus at $1.21
* Net producer revenue up 1 pct to $13.79 billion
LONDON, Nov 21 (Reuters) - SABMiller, the world's second-largest brewer, said emerging markets would continue to drive sales and earnings while European and North American consumers drink less beer.
Other companies including Unilever and Diageo have reported a slowdown in emerging markets such as China and Brazil but SABMiller said it was upbeat on the outlook for Latin America, Africa and Asia.
The maker of Peroni, Grolsch and Miller Lite cited particular strength in Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia where urban populations are growing and trading up to branded beer from home-brewed alcohol.
"Amid widespread concerns around slowing economies, particularly in emerging markets, we believe that the underlying fundamentals of our key developing markets remain in tact," SABMiller Chief Executive Officer Alan Clark said on Thursday.
"This includes growth drivers such as growing population, increasing urbanization, progressively aspirational consumers and opportunities to gain market share from the illicit trade."
The brewer has leading positions in Africa, China and the Andean region of Latin America.
Strength in those places helped SABMiller report a 7 percent rise in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, reaching $3.27 billion in the six months ended 30 September. That was ahead of analysts' average estimate of $3.22 billion, according to a company-supplied consensus.
Lager sales by volume rose 1 percent. Volume gains of 9 percent in Africa, 4 percent in Asia Pacific and 1 percent in Latin America were tempered by declines of 4 percent in Europe and 3 percent in North America.
Africa has become a key battleground for alcoholic drink makers. Diageo has stepped up investments there, recently buying breweries in Tanzania and Ethiopia, and is on the hunt for more.
"Looking forward to the second half of the year, we expect trading conditions to remain broadly unchanged, with volume growth continuing to be driven by emerging markets," Clark said.
Slow economic growth in Europe and the United States has hurt household budgets, meaning consumers have either cut back on beer drinking or tried to buy it more cheaply.
In Europe EBITDA fell 8 percent and SABMiller highlighted falling sales volumes in Poland and the Czech Republic.
"Europe is trading below our expectations," Chief Financial Officer Jamie Wilson said, noting that the region has been tough for a number of quarters. "We see the economies there continuing to perform sluggishly, so that is not a surprise to us."
Shares of the company, which had fallen nearly 10 percent in the past six months, were up 0.5 percent at 3250 pence at 1030 GMT on Thursday.
"Without meaningful change in the macro outlook, we see little reason to become more positive on the stock," said Liberum Capital in a research note.
Through a decade of heavy consolidation, four big brewers -- Anheuser-Busch InBev, SABMiller, Heineken and Carlsberg -- already make half the world's beer.
As virgin ground shrinks, speculation has grown that SABMiller itself could be acquired.
Asked whether consolidation in the beer sector was finished, Clark said: "We don't think that age or that era is over in the brewing industry."
Earnings on a per-share basis were $1.20 in the first half of the year, slightly below analysts' average estimate of $1.21.
Overall, net producer revenue, which excludes excise and similar taxes, was $13.79 billion, in line with estimates.