Diageo, the world's largest spirits company, today reported higher half-year sales, helped by strength in India and China. 

The maker of Guinness, Johnnie Walker Scotch and Smirnoff vodka also said it would buy back £660m worth of shares, bringing the total buyback programme to up to £3 billion for the year ending June 30. 

Diageo, which has operations across 180 countries, said currency exchange rates shaved 91 million pounds off its half-year sales and would drive sales for the full year lower by 80 million pounds.

The company also stuck to its forecast of mid-single digit organic net sales growth for the year and said it expects to expand operating margins to 175 basis points for the three years ending June 30, 2019. 

In recent years Diageo has restructured in a bid to improve performance and streamline its portfolio, exiting non-core business and underperforming labels, while trying to bulk up on newer, hipper brands. 

Diageo recently sold 19 lower-end brands including Seagrams VO Canadian whisky for $550m, as it focuses on faster-growing products such as Johnnie Walker Scotch or Casamigos tequila, George Clooney's brand, which Diageo took over in 2017. 

The company said it booked an exceptional pre-tax gain of £154m on the divestiture. 

Diageo reported net sales of €6.91 billion, up 7% on an organic basis, for the six months ended December 31, above analysts' average expectations for organic net sales to grow 5.5%. 

It reported earnings of 77 pence per share, excluding one-time items, also higher than the expected 71.4 pence, according to a company-supplied consensus.

Diageo said its Irish net sales grew by 5% in the six month period. Irish beer sales were up 3% on the back of the launch of Rockshore lager and the continued growth of its Hop House 13 Lager.

But this increase was partially offset by a 3% decline in Guinness Draught. 

It said that sales of spirits in Ireland saw double digit growth, largely driven by Gordon's and Baileys.

Beer represents 15% of Diageo's net sales and increased by 4% in the six month period, largely driven by Guinness with growth coming from all  regions except Latin America and Caribbean. 

It said that Guinness net sales were up 4% with strong performance in Europe driven by Guinness Draught and continued growth of Hop House 13 Lager.