Merck's (NYSE:MRK) due out with Q1 2007 earnings tomorrow, so get ready for a headache -- analysts are predicting it will be another down quarter for the drugmaker. Anybody got a Vioxx?

After the news comes out, we'll have time aplenty to dissect it. But in these few hours before we begin obsessing over Merck's short-term progress, let's take a moment to review what investors think about it as a long-term investment. Our tool in this endeavor: Motley Fool CAPS, where we poll more than 27,000 investors for their views on well over 4,000 companies, Merck among them. Here's what Fools have to say about the company.

Up or down?
More than 700 investors have submitted opinions on the company. The verdict: No pain, no gain.

87% of CAPS investors think Merck will outperform the market (a percentage I'm finding pretty common in my research). Expert sentiment tracks the masses, with 88% of CAPS All-Stars giving Merck the thumbs-up. That's still only good enough to earn three out of five possible stars, though.

But within the field of major drug czars, Merck's neck and neck with the best:

Major Drug Manufacturers Group

CAPS Rating

Johnson & Johnson




Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT)


Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY)


GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK)


Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY)


Pfizer (NYSE:PFE)


Wall Street vs. Main Street
As up on Merck as CAPS players are, Wall Street is more so. Against just a single sell rating, Merck garners 11 buys. Little wonder. Over the last 52 weeks, the stock has outperformed the S&P 500 by a good 33 percentage points.

Brass tacks
How does Merck do it, and how do investors think Merck will keep on doing it (or not)?

Bull pitch
Merck bulls think that about the only things depriving this stock of more stars are the ongoing trials over its ill-starred Vioxx painkiller. Once the trials are finished and the damage to Merck's balance sheet proves to be less severe than once feared, bulls expect the shares to flourish on the back of new drugs like the Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine.

Bear pitch
Bears respond that the dangers are far greater than bulls comprehend. They range from "10,000+ [Vioxx] lawsuits in the pipeline," to patent expirations on existing drugs and a weak pipeline of new ones, to the recent arrival of a Democratic Congress -- traditionally considered no friend to Big Pharma.

Look who's talking
To learn the identities of the wise Fools who penned these thoughts and explore the plethora of additional financial data we've put together on the company, just click here.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked 284th out of more than 27,000 raters. Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, and Eli Lilly are Income Investor picks. Pfizer is an Inside Value choice. The Fool has a disclosure policy.