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Investors are betting that today’s inflation report will show the worst is behind us

May 11, 2022, 8:29 AM UTC

The dreaded I-word—inflation—has clobbered stocks and risk assets so far in 2022, helping to push the Nasdaq into a bear market and the benchmark S&P 500 well into correction territory.

As such, all eyes on Wall Street will be tuning into today’s pivotal consumer price index (CPI) report to see if there’s any relief in sight. The numbers, issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, come out ahead of the opening bell, at 8:30 a.m. ET.

According to a Reuters survey of economists, the consensus estimate will show consumer prices rose 0.2% last month, which would mean inflation is running at a red-hot rate of 8.1% higher than a year ago. As lousy as those numbers sound, it would resemble a huge improvement over what we’ve seen so far this year. Last month, the CPI print showed inflation for consumer products hit a 41-year-high, growing at an annual rate of 8.5%.

A miss on CPI today could easily add further turmoil to a volatile market.

Economists have been saying for weeks that consumer prices probably peaked in April, a calculation with huge implications for the U.S. economy and the markets.

If the peak-inflation theory holds true, that would likely mean the Federal Reserve, already embarking on an agressively hawkish policy of ratcheting up interest rates, wouldn’t have to bring out the bazooka to keep prices from rising even further. Which brings us back to today’s CPI data.

“This will be a very important one for markets and the Fed, since although policymakers have strongly signaled that they’re inclined to continue hiking by 50bps at the next couple of meetings, there is still 25/50/75bps to play for after those meetings,” the Deutsche Bank macro strategy team wrote in an investor note Wednesday morning. “Today’s report will help shape the early read into this, and has an ability to move markets in a large manner if diverging from consensus too far.”

Any whiff of a 75-basis-point hike would likely send bearish investors rushing for the exits, the markets pros fear, after a week to forget. The three major averages are down significantly since the Fed hiked interest rates by a widely expected 50-basis points a week ago.

Adding to investor jitters: Cleveland Fed president Loretta Mester, a voting member on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Tuesday that the central bank is not ruling out a 75-basis-point increase at future meetings. However, she added, “I think the pace we’re going right now seems about right to me.”

U.S. futures and global stocks

So far, investors are brushing off that quasi-hawkish talk from Mester. Asian and European markets were mostly in the green on Wednesday, with tech stocks leading the way higher.

U.S. futures, too, were steadily higher, as investors look to build on Tuesday’s meager gains.

While equities are rebounding, crypto is not. Bitcoin was under pressure again this morning, trading around $30,500. The king of crypto has fallen a staggering 15% since the Fed last week raised rates by 50 basis points, with trading volumes again sagging.

Check out this Fortune must-read: “April was a brutal month for stocks. Here are 3 charts that lay out the carnage, and 1 that should give investors hope”