Anheuser-Busch InBev didn't sell any more beer in 2011 than it did in 2010, but the brewer has earned praise for its margin management and can expect better in 2012.

Volume sales across A-B InBev's global business were pretty much flat over the 12 months to the end of December. Consumer thirst for beer in Brazil, which did so much to absorb the firm's travails in the US in 2010, hardly grew at all last year.

Yet, solid rises in sales value and operating profits again show the Budweiser brewer's skill in creating value out of a relatively weak situation. That can't go on forever, of course, but it does buy the firm time with shareholders. Today (8 March), A-B InBev's share price hit an all-time high in Europe.

Things are looking brighter on the beer sales front this year in A-B InBev's key markets. In the US, it is finally looking as though a leak in mainstream beer sales is slowing to a trickle, and may even be reversed. There are very promising early signs for Bud Light Platinum, the firm's new 6% abv lager.

In Brazil, an increase in the minimum wage is expected to restore the beer market to meaningful volume growth in 2012. Meanwhile, A-B InBev appears to have its act together in China, with its organic volumes in the country up 6.4% for 2011. 

Those looking for statements of intent on China's Kingway Brewery will be disappointed. But, in its results statement today, A-B InBev at least said that it is determined to expand in China, both organically and via "select acquisitions".

On the brand side, Budweiser is enjoying a more prominent international profile. Its global volumes rose by around 3% versus 2010, as the UK and Russia, together with early momentum in Brazil, overshadowed ongoing decline in the US.

Despite the positive vibes, some analysts highlighted risks. Stifel Nicolaus, for example, pointed out that fourth-quarter volumes in Brazil were weaker than expected, as was January, and that the impact of the minimum wage increase is yet to be seen.

Along with other brewers, A-B InBev also continued to face a difficult time in Russia. In the UK, meanwhile, its volumes fell more steeply than the overall beer market in 2011.

As long as the efficiency and pricing strategy continues to pay, the brewer will have time to implement its innovation plans at the top-line. This year, though, despite the plaudits, the firm will need to show that its much-vaunted innovation strategy on the sales side is sticking. It will also have to fend off greater competition in Brazil, albeit from a powerful starting position.