Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

Consumer income and spending grew slowly in July, while consumer sentiment slipped in August. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is down along with major markets around the world due to mixed economic reports and continuing uncertainty over U.S. military intervention in Syria. As of 2:25 p.m. EDT the Dow is down 44 points, or 0.3%, while the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) is down 0.35%.

Secretary of State John Kerry held a press conference at 1 p.m. EDT to make the case for U.S. intervention in Syria. The market dropped and immediately recovered somewhat after Kerry said the U.S. has evidence of more than 1,000 deaths caused by chemical weapons in Syria. In other news, India reported second-quarter GDP growth of just 4.4% -- its worst quarterly GDP growth since 2002 and far below analyst expectations of 4.7% growth. India is a top-10 economy, so its slowing growth and debt problems could be a major drag on the world economy going forward.

There were two U.S. economic releases today.





Personal income




Consumer spending




Core PCE price index




University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index




The University of Michigan's Consumer Sentiment Index for August came in at 82.1, down from last month's 85.1 but above analyst expectations of 80.5. The rise was expected, as the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index for August came in above analyst expectations on Tuesday.

The Department of Commerce's Personal Income and Outlays report for July showed that personal income rose a seasonally adjusted 0.1%, in line with analyst expectations. Consumer spending also rose a seasonally adjusted 0.1%, which was actually lower than analyst expectations of a 0.3% rise. Consumer spending is important because it makes up roughly 70% of the U.S. economy. Consumer spending has been held back as incomes grow at a glacial pace.

US Personal Consumption Expenditures Chart

US Personal Consumption Expenditures data by YCharts.

The Personal Consumption Expenditures price index is the Federal Reserve's favored measure of inflation. PCE inflation rose 1.4% over the past 12 months. Core PCE inflation -- i.e., PCE inflation excluding food and energy -- rose 1.2%. The Federal Reserve is targeting inflation of 2% to 2.5%, and as you can see, inflation is well below the Fed's target -- an indication that the Federal Reserve will not soon begin to draw down its quantitative-easing program.

US Core Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index Chart

US Core Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index data by YCharts.

There's a lot of uncertainty right now, given speculation of Fed "tapering," a potential U.S. military strike in Syria, a slowdown in emerging markets, and more. So what can an investor do in times like this? Here's my advice: Keep learning, focus on your goals, have an investing plan, stick to it, ignore the crowds, and invest for the long term.

Dan Dzombak can be found on Twitter @DanDzombak or on his Facebook page, DanDzombak. He has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.