By John S. McClenahen For about a week leading up to the Dec. 9 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the only question was whether the panel would continue to describe monetary policy as accommodative for "a considerable period." Omitting the phrase from its post-meeting statement, it was presumed, would be a signal that FOMC Chairman Alan Greenspan and his colleagues were likely to raise interest rates in 2004. Keeping it in their statement would suggest no hike in rates. The FOMC retained the phrase in its Dec. 9 statement. "With inflation quite low and resource use slack, the Committee believes that policy accommodation can be maintained for a considerable period." But in a notable departure from the statements following meetings earlier this year, the FOMC in effect said it's no longer concerned about deflation, a falling of prices across the U.S. economy. "The probability of an unwelcome fall in inflation has diminished in recent months and now appears almost equal to that of a rise in inflation." The FOMC, as expected, left the influential federal funds rate target at 1%, a four-decade low.