Pfizer, which remains one of the few large drugmakers not yet hit by patent expirations on key drugs, forecast earnings per share of $1.30 or better this year and between $1.56 and $1.60 next year -- in line with analyst forecasts. 

In stark contrast, Merck and Co. Inc. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. last week shocked Wall Street by warning of no profit growth next year, as the companies will be hit by generic competition on major drugs. 

``These numbers are right in line with expectations,'' said analyst Robert Hazlett of Robertson Stephens about the Pfizer estimates. ``It is proof positive that the issues are with individual companies that have patent expiration concerns in 2002. If you do not have those issues, your business should be growing reasonably well for drug companies.'' 

Pfizer, maker of anti-impotence pill Viagra and cholesterol drug Lipitor, also said it would spend a whopping $5.3 billion next year on research and development of experimental drugs. 

The statement comes just a day before Pfizer's annual meeting with analysts and investors in New York, where the company is expected to discuss its pipeline of new drugs. 

Analysts cited Pfizer's relative safe position on patent expirations as a key to profit growth. 

``Pfizer has strong patent protection through at least mid-decade or later and their pipeline is pretty strong,'' said analyst Jason Fox of H&R Block Financial Advisors. 

Analysts on average forecast Pfizer earnings per share of $1.31 for 2001 and $1.59 for 2002, according to Thomson Financial/First Call. Pfizer previously forecast earnings of $1.30 per share for this year and $1.56 or better for 2002. 

Pfizer said it expects revenues and earnings-per-share growth of at least 15 percent in 2003 and in 2004. Revenues in 2002 are expected to grow at a double-digit percentage clip. 

Pfizer also said on Monday it was increasing it quarterly dividend to 13 cents per share from 11 cents. 

Pfizer shares climbed 2.3 percent, or 89 cents, to close at $40.33 on the New York Stock Exchange. Pfizer's stock is off 14 percent so far this year, roughly in line with the 15 percent decline in the American Stock Exchange Pharmaceuticals index. 

But Pfizer's share drop for the year is substantially less than the decline seen at Merck -- down 38 percent -- and Bristol-Myers -- down 33 percent -- since the start of the year. 

WARNER-LAMBERT STILL YIELDING 

However, the enthusiasm over the company has been tinged with a few minor notes of concern fo??? 

Pfizer's 2000 acquisition of Warner-Lambert yielded Lipitor and blockbuster epilepsy treat??? created the opportunity for huge merger-related savings, which many analysts say are driving the earnings growth. 

When those savings dry up, they say, the company may have trouble achieving industry-leading earnings growth. The company projected total cost savings of $1.7 billion by year-end 2002, as Pfizer continues to eliminate overlaps between the two companies. 

To boost its line of prescription drugs, Pfizer is expected to seek U.S. marketing approval soon for Spiriva, the first once-daily inhaled treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and pregabalin, an anticonvulsant drug meant to be the successor to Neurontin. 

Analysts at last year's meeting were intrigued by an experimental cholesterol drug that could significantly raise HDL, or so-called ``good cholesterol,'' in the body. The drug was in early-stage trials.