The change in outlook regarding monetary policy that might have been expected to occur tomorrow, when the Fed's monetary policymakers convene for their last meeting of the year, instead occurred today. Related Story Easing Talk Has Economists Worrying About Fed's Credibility Based on an article today in The Wall Street Journal, economists and investors are increasingly convinced the Fed will lower rates at its first meeting of the new year, on Jan. 30-31. Some even believe the Fed may cut rates as early as tomorrow. The Fed sets the country's benchmark short-term interest rates. The article said the Fed is considering skipping a step in the process that typically culminates in an interest-rate cut. Currently, the Fed's official viewpoint on monetary policy is that the risk of rising inflation is greater than the risk of too-slow economic growth. That equates to a preference for higher interest rates. A first step toward cutting interest rates would be to declare the two risks in balance, indicating a preference for leaving interest rates at their current level. A second step would be to declare the risk of too-slow growth paramount, suggesting a preference for lower interest rates that would encourage consumers and companies to borrow more -- and spur growth. If the Fed were to take one step per meeting, it would not cut interest rates till March at the earliest. The Journal article said the Fed is considering jumping directly to the assessment that too-slow growth is the greater risk. That disclosure makes a January interest-rate cut much likelier, even if the Fed ultimately opts for a risks-balanced statement tomorrow, some economists say. The fact that some policymakers -- possibly including Chairman Alan Greenspan -- are prepared to consider skipping a step shows that the Fed is closer to lowering rates than previously believed. "There's more of a chance now they skip right over the neutral bias," says Christopher Low, chief economist at First Tennessee Capital Markets, referring to the risks-balanced statement. "I think what we're probably going to see is a neutral bias. But that doesn't rule out an ease in January." The odds of a cut coming as early as tomorrow in the fed funds rate, implied by the prices of fed funds futures contracts, rose to 46% today from 41% on Friday. A statement that too-slow growth is the greater risk would not be a surprise after the Journal article, agrees Daiwa Securities chief economist Michael Moran, who nonetheless is forecasting a risks-balanced statement. The switch "would suggest they are prepared to move