BERKELEY, Calif. (Reuters) - There is a "strong case" for raising interest rates when Federal Reserve policymakers meet next month, as long as U.S. economic data does not disappoint, a top Fed official said on Saturday.
"The data I think have been overall encouraging, especially on the labor market," San Francisco Fed President John Williams told reporters after a conference at University of California Berkeley's Clausen Center.
"Assuming that we continue to get good data on the economy, continue to get signs that we are moving closer to achieving our goals and gaining confidence getting back to 2-percent inflation... If that continues to happen there's a strong case to be made in December to raise rates."
The Fed is widely seen increasing its benchmark overnight interest rate at its Dec. 15-16 policy meeting, and the debate is already shifting to the pace of rate hikes going forward.
Williams sought on Saturday to make clear that rate hikes would not only be gradual, but would not follow the stair-step pattern that characterized the Fed's last policy-tightening cycle, when it raised rates by a quarter of a percentage point at every meeting.
"I do think the slope is the most important thing to communicate, the pace of increases," he said, adding that the Fed's quarterly economic forecasts will be critical in that regard, along with public comments from Fed officials and possible changes to the Fed's post-meeting statement.
"We definitely do not want to, either through our actions or our words, indicate a preference for a very mechanical path of interest rates, whether it’s every other meeting or however you think about it," Williams said. "Since economic data can surprise on the upside and the downside, maybe there will be opportunities to show we are data dependent."
Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Alan Crosby