This paper analyzes a novel data set of commodity futures prices over a long sample period from 1877-2015, which allows us to shed light on several important and controversial questions. Our sample provides evidence that commodity futures returns:
(1) have been positive on average;
(2) vary significantly across business cycles, inflation episodes, and periods of backwardation versus contango,
(3) are driven mostly by variation of spot returns and therefore closely linked to the underlying commodity spot market;
(4) perform well during inflation cycles and provide more return in backwardated states; and
(5) display low correlation with stocks and bonds.
These long-run stylized facts imply that commodity futures can add value to a diversified portfolio from an asset allocation perspective.