UPDATE 1-Drinks groups' sales slow on emerging market weakness
* Diageo Q3 sales growth 4 pct vs forecast 5 pct
* SABMiller Q4 lager volume growth 3 pct, LatAm down 1 pct
* Remy Q4 sales rise 12.4 pct as cognac sales hold up
LONDON, April 18 (Reuters) - Global drinks companies Diageo and SABMiller reported a fall in sales for the first three months of 2013 in major emerging markets on Thursday, blaming weaker economic conditions for dampening spending and pushing consumers to trade down.
Their weak trading adds to evidence that markets such as Brazil and South Korea are slowing and that this is feeding through to consumer spending on discretionary goods.
But brewer SABMiller had some bright spots, including parts of Africa and also eastern Europe, where new premium product launches helped boost sales. And France's Remy Cointreau bucked the gloomy trend, with solid China New Year cognac sales and a sales increase in Russia and Britain.
Diageo, the maker of Johnnie Walker whisky and Guinness stout, said volume fell 1 percent in the three months to end-March and sales growth was 4 percent, below forecasts, despite strength in its biggest business, U.S. spirits.
Growth slowed in all Diageo's emerging market regions, with weak consumer sentiment particularly noted in Brazil, where retail sales have fallen as consumers feel the pinch of a struggling economy and high inflation.
Nigeria was also weak, as was South Korea, where the scotch market has been in decline as consumers trade down, Diageo, also the owner of Tanqueray gin and Baileys liqueur, said.
Diageo shares fell 0.7 percent to 1,961 pence. They enjoyed a strong run last year, rising around 30 percent, but have retreated over 7 percent since the start of April.
Analysts said the company's fundamentals remained unchanged and that technical issues related to shipment phasing had distorted the numbers.
"Given our market positions and geographic diversity we remain confident that Diageo's performance continues to be in line with our medium term guidance," said Diageo chief executive Paul Walsh in a statement.
Brewer SABMiller, maker of Peroni and Grolsch, also flagged weak demand in Latin America. It reported an overall 3 percent rise in lager volumes for the quarter, in line with estimates, but posted a surprise 1 percent drop in Latin America, its biggest region.
SABMiller does not have a significant presence in Brazil but has over 90 percent of the market in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, where it sells brands like Aguila and Cusquena.
Softer economic conditions, local dry laws in Peru and Ecuador and a price increase in December all impacted on sales in the period, the firm said.
However, strong trading in Zambia and Mozambique led to 9 percent volume growth in Africa, with Europe also performing well, driven by new premium launches in Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic.
French spirits group Remy Cointreau posted better than expected quarterly sales growth of 12.4 percent, as cognac demand for the Chinese New Year celebrations held up and sales rose in Russia and Britain.
Remy's statement reassured the market on the resilience of cognac in Asia, after Pernod Ricard had flagged that its Chinese New Year business had slowed due, in part, to the new government clampdown on luxury gifts.
"Remy delivered sales above consensus with a rare (for the liquor group) sequential acceleration this March quarter; we are becoming more constructive on hold-rated Remy," analysts at Investec said.
The broker retained a 'buy' on Diageo, citing an "unwarranted" discount to Pernod, expanding emerging markets presence, and M&A potential.