Reporting earnings Wednesday morning, giant drugmaker Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) failed for the first time in at least two years to beat the average analyst estimate. Earnings per share (after various charges) came in at $0.58 per share -- a penny shy of the average estimate.

Despite the concerns over COX-2 inhibitors created by Merck's (NYSE:MRK) withdrawal of Vioxx, Celebrex, and Bextra, both reported higher sales. But with a special FDA meeting looming in February, and mixed messages on the safety of Celebrex and Bextra, it's anybody's guess as to what the COX-2 market will look like by the end of 2005.

Overall, Pfizer posted 7% growth in revenue -- admittedly not the stuff of legends -- as growth in drugs such as Lipitor, Celebrex, Camptosar, and Zyvox was weighed down by the less-robust performance of major contributors such as Norvasc, Nuerontin, Zithromax, and Viagra.

Reacting to investor concerns, Pfizer is resorting to a tried-and-true tactic used by all pharmaceutical companies when the going gets a little tough -- talking about the pipeline. In Pfizer's case, there are reasons for optimism. Drugs such as Exubera, indiplon, Sutent, and Daxas all have the potential to make meaningful contributions in the next couple of years, and Pfizer still maintains a world-class R&D effort (and spends a phenomenal $7 billion-plus each year).

Investing in Pfizer now isn't so much about near-term business prospects as it is about a long-term bet on the recovery of the pharmaceutical sector. Buying near the bottom is almost by necessity a scary proposition. After all, stocks don't get near the bottom because everything looks rosy and analysts are singing hosannas for the company. Those who are worried about Pfizer's long-term prospects might want to look back at the last time these shares traded near these levels -- the so-called "Hillary scare" -- and take note of how well intrepid investors did by buying near that bottom.

That's not to say that there may not be another leg down in Pfizer stock before a recovery begins. A negative FDA decision on COX-2 inhibitors would rob the company of a major near-term growth engine, and any negative regulatory decisions for new drugs will probably create a greater-than-normal psychological impact. What's more, the cavalry may be on the way in terms of new drugs, but it will be a few years before they make a meaningful impact.

All that said, nervous investors can take courage in a simple tautology -- Americans will always need pharmaceuticals, and Pfizer is one of the best-positioned companies in the world to continue developing and selling those drugs.

Fool contributor Stephen Simpson holds a CFA and has no ownership interest in any stocks mentioned.