Fed's Powell says case for a rate hike has clearly strengthened since last meeting

Jerome Powell, Federal Reserve Governor.
David Orrell | CNBC
Jerome Powell, Federal Reserve Governor.

The case for a rate hike has clearly strengthened since the U.S. central bank's last meeting, said Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell on Tuesday in prepared remarks at an event in Washington.

"Incoming data show an economy that is growing at a healthy pace, with solid payroll job gains and inflation gradually moving up to 2 percent," Powell said.

While Powell said he thinks that the Fed's patience in raising rates has paid dividends, he warned that moving too slowly could eventually mean that the Federal Open Market Committee would have to abruptly tighten policy to avoid overshooting its goals.

The U.S. economy is reasonably close to achieving full employment and the Fed's 2 percent inflation target, Powell said. But the economy still faces challenges over the medium and long term, he said.

"Our aging population will mean slower growth, all else held equal. If living standards are to continue to rise, we need policies that will support productivity and allow our dynamic economy to generate widespread gains in prosperity," he concluded.

Powell's comments echo the minutes released last week from the committee's Nov. 1-2 meeting. During that meeting, the Fed left its benchmark interest rates unchanged, but acknowledged the case for an increase has gotten stronger.

It is widely expected that the central bank will raise its benchmark federal funds rate after its Dec. 13-14 meeting. The market sees a 96.3 percent chance that the Fed will hike rates next month, according to the CME's FedWatch tool.

— CNBC's Elizabeth Schulze contributed to this report.