Pfizer

(PFE) - Get Report

said Monday that it expects to earn at least $1.30 a share in 2001, in line with its previous forecast, though a penny shy of Wall Street expectations.

The drug giant offered the financial guidance one day ahead of a meeting with analysts in New York City.

Previously, Pfizer had forecast 2001 earnings in a range of $1.27 to $1.30 a share. Hitting the upper figure would push Pfizer's earnings growth to 27%, tops among major pharmaceutical companies.

For 2002, Pfizer says it expects to earn $1.56 to $1.60 a share, representing 20% earnings growth. Wall Street is looking for 2002 earnings of $1.59 a share.

Shares of Pfizer closed Monday up 89 cents, or 2.26%, to $40.33.

Pfizer's outlook contrasts sharply with that of rivals

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

and

Bristol-Myers Squibb

(BMY) - Get Report

, which both warned last week of flat to negative earnings growth for 2002 as drug patent expirations take their toll on sales.

But Pfizer is not without its challenges. Goldman Sachs analyst James Kelly sees earnings growth slowing to industry-average levels of 12% to 14% over 2003-05. Pfizer's pipeline is promising, he adds, but product approvals and launches likely won't happen until 2003 and beyond. Kelly rates Pfizer market perform, and his firm hasn't done recent underwriting for the company.

Pfizer will provide details about its late-stage pipeline at Tuesday's analyst meeting, which could affect shares of

Inhale Therapeutics

(INHL)

and

Interneuron

(IPIC)

.

Inhale has a pact with Pfizer to develop Exubera, an inhaled insulin drug. In July, Pfizer announced that plans to file for approval of the drug with the Food and Drug Administration by the end of the year were delayed. At the time, Pfizer officials didn't say much more but hinted that additional tests might be required. Investors and analysts will be looking for more details tomorrow, including a possible FDA filing date.

Pfizer is also conducting late-stage tests on an antianxiety drug called pagaclone, which it licensed from tiny biotech Interneuron. Pfizer is testing pagaclone as a new type of drug to treat patients suffering from panic attacks and general anxiety disorders. The drug could be big because it seems to lack some of the negative side effects of existing drugs such as Valium and Xanax. Pagaclone could reach the FDA in 2003 if all goes well, and that's what Interneuron shareholders will be listening for tomorrow.