Investing at a chaotic time like this takes fortitude and planning. And if you can handle it, a falling stock market can be an opportunity for people with long horizons.
But I wouldn’t put any money in stocks until I was sure that I could pay my bills first. Once the critical expenses are accounted for, and as long as you can withstand some short-term losses, then broadly diversified, low-cost index funds are a good way to invest in the total stock market. That approach eliminates the risk of holding the wrong specific stocks at the wrong time.
History shows that the US stock market has always recovered from declines in the past. If you put money in stocks, over 10 years you would have been down only 6 percent of the time. Over 20-year periods, the market has never been down. There could always be a first time, of course, and the experience of protracted losses can be excruciating. That’s why it is important to hold high-quality bonds or other safe investments, and to be sure that you have put aside money for emergencies.
Predicting when a bear market will end and the next bull market will start is a fruitless task, with one big exception: Intervention by the Federal Reserve would be a crucial sign of a change in fortune for the stock market. At the moment, the Fed is raising interest rates and taking other measures aimed at slowing the economy and bringing down inflation — and those moves are contributing to the fall in stock market prices.
If the Fed were to change its current approach and start flooding the economy with money again, as it did in 2008 and 2009, and again in March 2020, the odds of a new bull market would rise appreciably. For now, though, battling inflation is the central bank’s main priority, and it has signaled that large rate increases are on the horizon, one of which will probably be announced this week.