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Market Brief: February 2024

February 6, 2024

Stocks closed January generally higher. Each of the benchmark indexes listed here ended January higher, with the exception of the small caps of the Russell 2000. Historically, positive market returns in January are often a precursor to favorable market performance for the remainder of the year. Of course, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Despite the end results, January proved to be a month of ebbs and flows. It began with stocks closing in the red, only to pick up momentum throughout the rest of the month.

The most recent inflation data showed prices inched higher in December after falling the previous month. Both the Consumer Price Index and the personal consumption expenditures price index increased, both monthly and annually. However, core prices, excluding the more volatile food and energy indexes, declined over the 12 months ended in December.

The Federal Reserve met in January and maintained the federal funds target rate range at its current 5.25%-5.50%. According to the Fed, the economy continued to show strength and job gains were steady. While noting that inflation had slowed, it remained above the Fed's target of 2.0%, all of which bolstered the Fed's reluctance to begin lowering interest rates.

The economy has proven resilient despite the ongoing war in Ukraine and turmoil in the Middle East. Fourth-quarter gross domestic product expanded at an annualized rate of 3.3%, according to the initial estimate. Consumer spending, the largest contributor to GDP, was 2.8%.

Job growth remained steady, with 216,000 new jobs added in December, an increase from November's 173,000. Wages continued to rise, increasing 4.1% over the last 12 months. Unemployment claims increased from a year ago (see below).

Fourth-quarter earnings season for S&P 500 companies has been lackluster so far. While the majority of companies have yet to release earnings data, the percentage of S&P 500 companies that have reported positive earnings surprises is below average according to FactSet, while actual earnings reported have been below estimates in aggregate. Companies in the financial sector have been particularly subpar. Roughly 25% of the S&P 500 companies have reported fourth-quarter earnings. Of these companies, 69% exceeded estimates, which is below the five-year average of 77%. In aggregate, companies reported earnings that are 5.3% below estimates, which is below the five-year average of 8.5%.

Sales of existing homes retreated in December, primarily due to lack of inventory, high prices, and advancing mortgage rates. Sales of new single-family homes increased 8.0% in December and 4.4% over the past 12 months.

Industrial production ticked higher in December after no growth in November and an 0.8% decline in October. Manufacturing ticked up 0.1% in December but declined 2.2% in the fourth quarter. Excluding motor vehicles and parts, factory output declined 0.1% in December and 0.3% in the fourth quarter. According to the latest survey from the S&P Global US Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index™, the manufacturing sector slipped further into contraction in December. The services sector saw business accelerate marginally.

Eight of the 11 market sectors ended December higher, led by communication services and information technology. Last month saw real estate, consumer discretionary, materials, and utilities decline.

Bond prices gained some momentum at the end of January, particularly following the Fed's decision to maintain interest rates for longer than some had expected. Despite the late-month surge in bond prices, 10-year Treasury yields generally closed the month higher. The 2-year Treasury yield fell nearly 11.0 basis points to about 4.21% in January. The dollar inched higher against a basket of world currencies. Gold prices rode a topsy-turvy month, ultimately closing lower. Crude oil prices advanced in January on the heels of production cuts and shipping interruptions in the Middle East. The retail price of regular gasoline was $3.095 per gallon on January 29, $0.233 above the price a month earlier but $0.394 lower than a year ago.

Chart reflects price changes, not total return. Because it does not include dividends or splits, it should not be used to benchmark the performance of specific investments.

Data sources: Economic: Based on data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (unemployment, inflation); U.S. Department of Commerce (GDP, corporate profits, retail sales, housing); S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Index (home prices); Institute for Supply Management (manufacturing/services). Performance: Based on data reported in WSJ Market Data Center (indexes); U.S. Treasury (Treasury yields); U.S. Energy Information Administration/ Market Data (oil spot price, WTI, Cushing, OK); (spot gold/silver); Oanda/FX Street (currency exchange rates). News items are based on reports from multiple commonly available international news sources (i.e., wire services) and are independently verified when necessary with secondary sources such as government agencies, corporate press releases, or trade organizations. All information is based on sources deemed reliable, but no warranty or guarantee is made as to its accuracy or completeness. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed herein constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any securities, and should not be relied on as financial advice. Forecasts are based on current conditions, subject to change, and may not come to pass. U.S. Treasury securities are guaranteed by the federal government as to the timely payment of principal and interest. The principal value of Treasury securities and other bonds fluctuates with market conditions. Bonds are subject to inflation, interest-rate, and credit risks. As interest rates rise, bond prices typically fall. A bond sold or redeemed prior to maturity may be subject to loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investing strategy will be successful.

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES Camden National Wealth Management does not provide investment, tax, legal, or retirement advice or recommendations. The information presented here is not specific to any individual's personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable — we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

Trust and investment management services are provided by Camden National Bank, a national bank with fiduciary powers. Camden National Bank is a wholly owned subsidiary of Camden National Corporation. Camden National Bank does not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. Please consult your accountant and/or attorney for tax and legal advice.

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