Can the US economy continue to plow ahead against global headwinds of the slowing economies of China, Europe and the developing world? Can it withstand the rapid devaluation of the oil industry and commodity prices? And most important of all, can it remain healthy during a period of rising interest rates?

Everyone on the planet who invests money is wondering if Ben Bernanke and his Federal Reserve cohorts have another off-script trick up their sleeves to wean the US capital markets and the economy from their $85 billion monthly deluges of free cash. One thing is certain - it has to end eventually, but when and how are sizing up to the biggest unknown in 2014.

Mr. Bernanke and his Federal Open Market Committee surprised markets this week by declining to begin tapering their monthly purchases of $45 billion in US Treasuries and $40 billion in mortgage bonds. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said markets shouldn’t have been surprised by the decision because the FOMC members have repeatedly said the decision to slow, or taper, would be “data dependent.” A nearly 1.5% jump in stocks on top of the no-go Syria rally of nearly 5% definitely implies surprise.

For much of this year a powerfully rising stock market seemed immune to deteriorating economic fundamentals. The most plausible reason was the Fed pumping billions in liquidity into the economy through their quantitative easing program known as QE3. But last week's markets highlighted some flaws in that logic.