“The forces that have driven exceptional investment returns over the past 30 years are weakening, and even reversing. It may be time for investors to lower their expectations. Given the waves of turbulence that have swept through financial markets in recent years, including the 2000 dot-com meltdown and the 2008 financial crisis, it may sound odd to describe the past three decades as a golden age for investors. But the reality is that total returns on equities and bonds in the United States and Western Europe from 1985 to 2014 were significantly higher than the long-term average.
These returns were driven by an extraordinary confluence of favorable economic and business fundamentals. Inflation and interest rates declined sharply from peaks in the late 1970s and 1980s. Global economic growth was strong, fueled by positive demographics, productivity gains, and rapid growth in China. And corporate-profit growth was even stronger, reflecting revenue gains in new markets, declining corporate taxes, and advances in automation and global supply chains that helped rein in costs. Publicly listed North American companies alone increased their posttax margins by 65 percent in this three-decade period. Read more »