The last few weeks has seen a large number of companies report their interim results, an opportunity to see whether the performance across a wide range of drinks companies from around the world supports the suggestion that the global economic situation is improving. Ben Cooper takes a closer look.

Over the past two weeks or so, some 22 drinks companies, including some of the largest and most influential spirits and beer producers across Europe, Asia Pacific and the Americas, have reported interim results.

Extrapolating global trends from the financial results of a group of companies is an inexact science at best. Their performance can be affected by a range of factors and though most operate across many markets, each has its own particular profile, making a read of some overall global picture problematic.

But it seems a logical moment to take stock of how the drinks sector is grappling with the global downturn, and whether the company performances bear out current prognoses concerning the economic situation, that things are still tough but there is genuine cause for optimism as we move into the second half of 2009 and 2010. One would have to say they, just about, do.

Like other companies, Carlsberg had good and bad news this week, reporting a 34% rise in half-year net profits but a 5% fall in like-for-like beer volumes.

The declining beer market in Russia - down 9% in the half-year and expected to fall by 5-6% for the year - has been a particular worry, forcing the brewer to cut its full-year net sales forecast from DKK63bn to DKK61bn, though it is sticking to its full-year earnings guidance.

Last week, SABMiller reported that lager volumes in Russia fell by 9% in the quarter to the end of June, with volumes in Poland down 8%. However, there was better news from Africa and Asia, where organic growth was 11%, contrasting with a 7% drop in Europe.

Judging by recent results, the drinks sector in the UK is by no means out of the woods. Companies can do their best to accentuate the positive but job losses and business failures tell their own story, and in the UK major job cuts announced in Scotland by Diageo and Whyte & Mackay have tempered optimism concerning the 'green shoots' of recovery. Enterprise Inns, a major UK pub operator, said last month that the rate of pub closures in its portfolio is up 50% on last year.

However, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) reported that while beer volumes had declined by 4.8% in the second quarter of 2009, this represents an improvement on an 8% fall in the first quarter.

Two UK regional brewers, Fuller, Smith & Turner and Marston's, have both recently reported improved results, and issued upbeat forecasts. Fuller's said own-brewed beer volumes rose by 2% for the first 16 weeks of the current fiscal year, and it expects to meet full-year guidance.

Marston's also said it expected to meet expectations following an uplift in sales over recent weeks. Net sales fell by 1.9% for the 43 weeks to 1 August, compared to a fall of 2.8% for the six months to 4 April. Suggesting confidence in improving conditions in 2010, the company said it planned to open 15 new pubs in its next fiscal year.

However, while Molson Coors UK doubled net profits to US$32.6m in the six months to 30 June, beer volumes fell by 13%. CEO Mark Hunter said the market remained "very challenging".

Across the Channel, it is soft Champagne sales that are proving most worrying. Laurent-Perrier reported a drop of nearly 25% in Champagne sales for the first quarter, and said it "expects market conditions to remain difficult".

Rémy Cointreau reported a 7.5% fall in net sales for the first three months of its fiscal year, with Champagne sales down 40% in "difficult worldwide trading conditions". Cognac sales fell by 4.5%, with spirits and liqueurs sales down by 5%.

Like SABMiller in the beer sector, Cognac companies are finding that developing markets are compensating for tough conditions. Rémy said Rémy Martin Cognac continued to grow in China during the quarter.

Moët Hennessy last week reported a 17% fall in first-half sales to EUR1.08bn, due to "massive destocking", with the biggest falls in Champagne. However, group sales recovered slightly in the second quarter, the company said, partly thanks to Cognac sales in Asia.

Pernod Ricard also said in a trading update that China and India have continued to grow strongly throughout the year. Overall, Pernod said it expects like-for-like sales to be more or less flat for the full year, hit by destocking and falling consumer spending. Operating profits will hit the lower end of its guidance but only thanks to lower advertising spend.

The comparative health of key emerging markets was underlined by quarterly results published by United Spirits and United Breweries of India. United Spirits said net sales for the first quarter increased by 22%, with net profits up 52%. United Breweries reported a 57% rise in net profits and a 17% jump in beer sales for its fiscal first quarter.

Burn Stewart Distillers, which reported it had doubled full-year pre-tax profits, said the performance was boosted by the success of its Scottish Leader whisky brand in Taiwan and South Africa.

From emerging markets to arguably the world's most developed consumer market, the US, where the economic crisis began and has hit the hardest. The indications are that things remain very tough stateside. French company Marnier Lapostolle posted a 6% drop in net sales for the six months to the end of June, citing a 13% fall in exports to the US.

MillerCoors, the US brewing venture between SABMiller and Molson Coors, reported rises in net sales and earnings for the first half of 2009, but said volume sales to US retailers and wholesalers were down by around 1% in the second quarter. MillerCoors said earlier this week that it saw no prospect for an upturn in the US beer sector for the rest of the year.

While Fortune Brands posted a 58% drop in net profits for the first six months of 2009, it reaffirmed its full-year guidance on the back of a solid performance from Beam Global Spirits & Wine. Spirits sales fell by 3% to $1.08bn.

The interim results reported over the last few weeks suggest the faint stirrings of recovery in some markets, and show that many companies are keeping more or less to full-year guidance.

They also show the wisdom of drinks companies investing in emerging markets over recent years. While many may have hoped those markets would be delivering handsome additional growth, as it turns out in many instances they have become a welcome compensation for harrowing conditions in established markets.

Furthermore, the results tend to support the idea posited at the beginning of the downturn that, notwithstanding the problems with premium products like Champagne, alcoholic drinks would probably fare better during the downturn than many other consumer categories.