Should you invest in the stock market now or wait?

That is the tough question the money experts are discussing.

Stock prices continue to fall and NASDAQ.com says what’s “Even more unnerving is that nobody knows how long this downturn will last or how far prices will fall before the market bottoms out and starts to recover.”

“Unnerving” is well put.

I have a modest little nest egg that I want to invest in stocks, but I don’t have the stomach to see it shrink if the market keeps dropping — even though I know my egg will eventually grow in the long term.

I don’t pretend to understand the many factors that cause the stock market to rise and fall, and this economics stuff has always confused me.

At Penn State, my economics professor thought I was a fool.

Purcell: A rapidly-growing economy is good, sir, because then we can all get rich!

Professor: Rapid growth causes inflation, you nitwit!

Purcell: Low unemployment is terrific because that means everyone gets to have a job!

Professor: Low unemployment can cause wage pressures, which causes inflation, you goof!

Believe it or not I got a B-plus in the class. To every question, I simply gave the opposite answer to the one I thought was correct.

Today’s global economy is really confusing to me. Everything is hopelessly linked together in ways even the geniuses don’t really comprehend.

Inflation is out of control in the USA thanks to government debt and spending, so the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates to quell it, which could cause the economy to slow down, which can hurt the stock market — or something like that.

A dictator invades Ukraine, which is causing a fertilizer shortage, which is causing food prices to soar because farmers are seeing smaller crop yields — or something like that.

All I know for sure is that American cars are built with motors made in Mexico, bumpers made in Brazil, ignition systems made in Taiwan — and then they’re assembled in Canada.

You want an American car, buy a Honda. They make those in Columbus, Ohio.

And all this interweaving of international investment means anything that happens anywhere in the world can make or break our stock market, which will impact the day I can finally retire.

We’re now flirting with an official bear market, a period in which stock prices decline by 20% or more from a recent peak.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is only off 15%, but the tech-heavy Nasdaq index is down 30 percent from its all-time high.

And the S&P 500, which is considered a barometer of the health of corporate America, briefly fell into bear territory last week before recovering slightly.

NASDAQ.com wisely suggests that people nearing retirement age may want to hold off on retiring for a little while because bear markets can be especially painful to retirees trying to live off their shrinking stock portfolios.

The Wall Street Journal reports the S&P 500 has declined an average of 36% during bear markets going back to 1929, so things could still get much worse.

In any event, here’s what’s unnerving to me:

Depending on how well I invest now, I’ll either spend my retirement years flipping burgers or sipping toddies at a Caribbean resort — and I’ll probably end up doing both.

So what is my investment plan?

If I ever determine what the heck the correct one is, I’ll follow my Penn State economics wisdom and make the opposite investment.

Purcell is an author and humor columnistfor the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.

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