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BRUSSELS, April 19 (Reuters) - Heineken NV, the world's second largest brewer unexpectedly increased volumes in the first quarter due to solid beer sales in Asia and Europe and repeated its forecast for margin expansion in 2017.
Analysts had been expecting volumes to decline following an extremely strong first three months of 2016 and a later timing of Easter this year. In fact, Heineken reported on Wednesday that they rose by 0.6 percent on a like-for-like basis.
Expansion was sharpest in Asia Pacific, at 5.4 percent, with Cambodia very strong, while Europe also up 0.5 percent thanks to improvements in France, Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and Austria.
Volumes in its Americas and Africa, Middle East and Eastern Europe divisions fell as weak Brazil offset strong Mexico and sales dropped sharply in Nigeria and Russia.
"Asia Pacific continued to outperform and volume in Europe was solid. In Africa, Middle East & Eastern Europe market conditions remain challenging, adversely impacting volume," Chief Executive Jean-Francois van Boxmeer said in a statement.
Heineken repeated its view that its operating margin should expand by around 40 basis points, excluding the impact of planned purchases of most of the pubs of Britain's Punch Taverns and of the Brazilian business of Japan's Kirin.
It has also said it expects a negative impact from currencies, although based on current spot rates the impact would not be as severe as previously expected.
Last year, Heineken's beer volume grew 7.0 percent, with expansion of 23 percent in Asia and 8 percent in the Americas, supported by strong performance in the Vietnamese and Chinese New Year and an early Easter. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek)