Brewing giant SABMiller sold less beer than expected in the first three months of 2009 as economic conditions worsened and demand fell in most of its markets.

The London-based owner of the of the Miller Lite, Peroni and Grolsch brands said on Thursday that worldwide underlying beer volumes fell 1 percent in its fourth quarter to end March, missing average analysts expectations for a 0.8 percent rise.

Economic conditions deteriorated in the second half and consumer demand has fallen in most markets, particularly in the fourth quarter, the group said in a trading update.

But the brewer, the second largest in the world after Anheuser-Busch InBev, managed to push through price rises.

It said its underlying annual revenue when stripping out currency fluctuations rose in the high single digits in percentage terms and its financial results were in line with its expectations.

Overall volumes for the 12 months to end March rose 2 percent, but were flat on an underlying basis after stripping out the effect of acquisitions.

The group, which also brews Castle, Snow, and Pilsner Urquell beers, said annual underlying volumes rose 1 percent in Latin America and by 4 percent in its Africa and Asia region, but were flat in Europe and dipped 2 percent in South Africa.

In the United States, where it formed the MillerCoors joint venture in July 2008, sales to retailers fell 0.4 percent in the nine months to end-March with 0.4 percent growth seen in the January-March quarter.

SABMiller shares, which have narrowly outperformed the FTSE 100 index by 2 percent so far this year, were unchanged at 1,063 pence at 0703 GMT.

(Reporting by David Jones; Editing by John Stonestreet)