Diageo , the world's biggest spirits group, delivered an upbeat message on Thursday with strongly growing emerging markets and a slow recovery in North America helping to offset continued weakness in euro zone crisis hit Europe.

The British maker of Johnnie Walker whisky and Smirnoff vodka said its half year underlying profits grew 9 percent making it well placed to meet its medium term target for 6 percent profits growth, margin expansion and 10-percent plus earnings growth.

Chief Executive Paul Walsh said the group saw strong growth of 18 percent across its emerging markets in the last six months of 2011, which helped to offset Europe depressed by poor trading in euro zone nations like Spain, Greece and Ireland.

London-based Diageo, which also sells Captain Morgan and Guinness beer, saw underlying sales growth of 7 percent for its July-December first-half which came after a nine percent first quarter rise, boosted by one-off factors.

This growth help drive half year underlying earnings up 16 percent to 55.9 pence a share for its July-December 2011 half year beating to a company-complied consensus of 54.8p and a ThomsonReuters I/B/E/S forecast of 54.8p. Its half year dividend rose 7 percent to 16.6 pence a share.

(Reporting by David Jones; Editing by)