Eli Lilly ( LLY)enters the first-quarter earnings season with a lot of promise, a big question mark and a desire to reverse three years of sliding earnings and meandering sales. Perhaps that's why there are a lot of fence sitters on Wall Street: 15 analysts have hold ratings on the stock, according to Thomson First Call. There are nine buy recommendations and two sell recommendations. And perhaps that's why analysts aren't straying very far from Lilly's financial guidance, offered in early January, when it said first-quarter earnings per share should be 65 cents to 67 cents. The consensus view is 66 cents with only a 1-cent variation on either side. That EPS of 66 cents, or $715 million, would look dramatically good compared to the 38 cents, or $407 million, for the same period last year -- except for the fact that 2003's first quarter was clipped by 23 cents a share for restructuring costs and asset impairments. Analysts predict first-quarter sales of $3.23 billion, up from $2.89 billion for the same period last year. Wall Street is enamored with Lilly's research pipeline, which many analysts say is the most attractive among Big Pharma for near-term prospects. Their favorites include the depression drug Cymbalta, which they say may reach the market this summer; a diabetes drug, Exanatide, for which the company may seek Food and Drug Administration approval by midyear; and the stress urinary incontinence drug Duloxteine, which could be available in early 2005. Another prospect is Alimta, already approved as a treatment for mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining. The company is seeking FDA approval for the drug to treat non-small cell lung cancer, which, analysts say, could significantly increase the drug's sales. The company has a bunch of billion-dollar drugs -- Humalog and Humulin for diabetes and Gemzar for treating several cancers -- and it has gotten plenty of publicity from Cialis. That's the impotence drug that has grabbed second place in the U.S. market for new prescriptions after having been on sale only since late November. Lilly markets the drug with its creator Icos ( ICOS). But analysts fret about a patent lawsuit affecting Lilly's anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa, which accounted for about 34% of the company's revenue last year and, by some Wall Street estimates, 40% or more of the earnings per share. Last year, Zyprexa recorded $4.28 billion in sales, up 16% from 2002.