Five years after one of the worst global downturns of the past century, after all, not that much has changed. Europe remains precarious financially, not to mention politically. The United States is mired in a period of slow growth and corporate caution. Even indefatigable China seems to have lost economic momentum.
Yet something has changed. The US stock market – that barometer of crowdsourcing long before the term was invented – is back. And it's telling anyone who'll listen: The fears of 2009 were overblown; the financial and economic risks that loomed so large have receded a bit. Yet the market is also delivering a more sobering message: Stocks can prosper when the Federal Reserve shovels vast amounts of 0 percent cash into the economy.
Market optimists cling to the first message. Pessimists focus on the second and ask: What happens when the Fed ends its support? Is this another bubble waiting to burst?
Whichever message turns out to be nearer the truth will affect million of investors, from baby boomers to Millennials. It holds the key to whether the current bull market will keep going – and for how long – which, in turn, will shape an older generation's retirement accounts and a young generation's decisions about how much to trust the market as a future source of income.