Wall Street Trading Desks Map Out Game Plans for CPI Scenarios

For months now, an uneasy truce has prevailed between the Federal Reserve and stock investors. As inflation cooled, Chairman Jerome Powell kept mostly quiet about a $5 trillion equity rally that many worry impedes his efforts to drain bloat from the economy.

Whether the peace can last will depend a lot on Tuesday’s consumer price index.

Consensus is building that a softer reading is likely to revive the new year’s equity rally while anything stronger may extend last week’s selloff in risky assets. Stocks and bonds have risen sharply since October when inflation reversed a two-year trend where CPI readings came in mostly stronger than expected. A simultaneous easing in financial conditions has repeatedly been brushed off by Powell despite questions over whether it hurts his goal of slowing demand and curbing inflation.

“I don’t think this Fed expected financial conditions to ease as much as they have, but as long as inflation keeps trending south, they’re not objecting,” Tony Pasquariello, a partner at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., wrote in a note Friday. “This only ups the ante for CPI.”