There are only two ways to drive profits: bring in more revenue or spend less. The former is going to be tough for Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), given that its top-selling drug, Lipitor, faces generic competition beginning this year. Cutting more costs, though, seems doable. After multiple large acquisitions, there's apparently fat left to be trimmed.

The Wall Street Journal puts the level at $1 billion next year. Bloomberg says $2.1 billion. Whatever the case, it's a substantial sum even for a company that registers nearly $68 billion in revenue last year. Remember, unlike revenue from a new drug, every dollar not spent is captured directly in the income line. Over the past four quarters, Pfizer had net income of $8.5 billion. A $1 billion increase would be a 12% boost to profits.

The cuts are mostly administrative. Everything from redundant activities at headquarters and local sites to travel, entertainment, and even electronic gear is on the table. Sounds like it'll be a blast to work there -- if you still have a job.

I understand the rationale. Pfizer has a huge patent cliff. Not as bad as Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) and AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN), but losing $10.7 billion Lipitor is going to hurt. Still, I worry that Pfizer might be taking it to an extreme.

These cuts are on top of the previously announced slashes to research and development. Where's the future growth going to come from if there are fewer new drugs being developed? I prefer Merck's (NYSE: MRK) no-spending-cuts-long-term-guidance-be-damned strategy.

The problem with relying on cuts versus launching new drugs is that there's no room for growth. If you launch a drug and it brings in $1 billion this year, there's an opportunity for it to sell $1.1 billion next year. Make $1 billion in cuts, and they'll be there next year, but that's all you have.

There's a fine line between reinvesting in a company and wasteful spending of cash that should just be returned to shareholders. But I worry that Pfizer might be giving up long-term growth just to make shareholders happy today.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli holds no position in any company mentioned. See his holdings and a short bio. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Pfizer. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.