Many asset managers are taking stock of the bizarre year that was 2017. If they are feeling broad-minded, some may also be pondering the story of the decade since the great financial crash. However, if you want to get a truly thought-provoking perspective on portfolio performance — or just spark some conversation over the holiday — my advice would be to widen the lens even further, to the past 145 years or so. Yes, you read that right. This week, a group of economists in America and Germany published the results of an enormous and granular number-crunching exercise to track the performance of all the big investible asset classes (bonds, bills, equities and housing) in 16 advanced western economies from 1870 to 2015. The authors of The Rate of Return on Everything, 1870-2015 — Oscar Jorda, Katharina Knoll, Dmitry Kuvshinov, Moritz Schularick and Alan Taylor — have not done this for narrow investment purposes. Instead, they hope to contribute to the academic debates which are now ragi...

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