AB InBev (BUD) - Get Report shares traded near the top of the European market Thursday after the world's biggest brewing company, and the maker of Corona and Budweiser beer, posted stronger-than-expected fourth quarter earnings and issued a robust outlook for 2019 profits.

AB InBev said earnings for the three months ending in December rose 10% from the same period last year to $6.17 billion, a figure that topped the $5.93 billion forecast from I/E/B/S Refinitiv. Group revenues, the brewer said, rose 5.3% to $14.25 billion, again beating the Street forecast of $13.74 billion.

AB InBev said it sees "revenue per (hectoliter) growth ahead of inflation" in 2019 as it attempts to drive customers to higher-priced, premium beers while at the same time cutting costs and reducing its $102.5 billion debt load. Ab InBev said it wants to see the ratio of net debt to operating earnings fall below 4 by next year. It was pegged at 4.6 at the end of 2018.

"2018 was another step forward in our company's transformational journey. We had many successes to celebrate, though the year was not without its challenges," the company said in a statement. "Our focus this year was to continue to drive the organic growth of our business while deleveraging towards our optimal capital structure."

"We are confident in our strategy and plans to grow our business by creating value from seed to sip and delivering sustainable top and bottom line growth in 2019 and beyond," the statement added.

AB InBev share were marked 4.74% higher in the opening hour of trading in Brussels following the results and changing hands at €68.98 each, the highest since October 24 and a move that takes the stock's three-month gain to around 2.66%.