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SOMETHING ODD IS GOING ON WITH THE STOCK MARKET

Rarely have so many prosperous people been so dissatisfied with their portfolios. It isn't enough anymore for our investments to rise in value. They must soar. They must explode.

This shift in investor expectations has been breathtaking. For much of the 20th century, stocks on average returned about 10 percent a year. But the technology-fueled stock market that has been the hallmark of the 1990s' economic expansion changed all that. Now a return of double that historic average seems sort of, well, puny. Only 20 percent? Where are your Internet stocks, buddy?

Investors who once would have been thrilled with that return now have this nagging feeling that they have missed out on the greatest upward trajectory since the last shuttle launch. They make sensible decisions about investing, shying away from companies that haven't even made any money yet. And look what's happened? Those sensible investments haven't done nearly so well as taking a flyer in Alice in dotcom.land. . . .

Even a sage like Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan . . . acknowledges "something profoundly different" may be going on. The wealth effect from stunning stock market gains is playing a significant role in keeping the economy humming. . . . Those market gains, in fact, may be pushing growth to the point where demand exceeds supply, an unsustainable "imbalance" that could end the current expansion. . . .

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