Disappointment over Anheuser-Busch InBev's third quarter beer sales has been largely offset by the brewer's optimism on the fourth quarter and progress on synergies, according to analysts.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer, today reported a drop in beer sales by volume and a 10% drop in net sales for the third quarter of 2009, leaving analysts disappointed.

"Volumes are disappointing - which is not that surprising - but the decline is significant," one analyst, who did not wish to be named, told just-drinks today (12 November). "However, I don't think they give enough detail as to the elements behind the decline."

Analyst group Sanford C Bernstein said that it had expected organic net sales growth of 2% in the quarter. Instead, A-B InBev reported a 0.4% decline.

"The weakness was mainly driven by poor volume trends in North America, C&E Europe and Asia Pacific," said Bernstein.

The brewer reported a volume sales slip of almost 5% in North America for the quarter, while volumes fell 16% in Central and Eastern Europe. Most of this division is to be sold off, but Sun InBev Russia, which is to be kept, reported volumes down 20% for the quarter and by 15% for the first nine months of 2009.

Russia's beer market has shrunk by around 10% so far this year, indicating that A-B InBev has lost some market share in the country.

These declines overshadowed a relatively strong volume performance in Latin America. In Brazil, the home of group subsidiary AmBev, beer volume sales rose 12% for the quarter.

ING analyst Gerard Rijk agreed with other analysts that volumes were "weaker than the weakness we expected", but added that this is outweighed by a number of positives.

"The guidance on Q4 on volumes and EBITDA growth is a strength which is now widely underestimated. This is going to dominate the share price quickly," Rijk told just-drinks. 

A-B InBev CEO Carlos Brito said today: "We anticipate fourth quarter year-over-year EBITDA growth in line with the third quarter.

"Demand trends remain soft, but we see improved volume performance in the fourth quarter 2009 compared with third quarter year-over-year results."

The brewer impressed analysts last month by exceeding its targeted $7bn in asset disposals ahead of schedule.

"The cost synergy schedule is very well on plan. Well done," said Rijk today.