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

And with that, the miserable month of August comes to a decidedly downward close for investors. The truly amazing thing is that the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) only ended lower by a tad more than 3% in August, yet that's its worst monthly performance since May 2012!

Based on today's U.S. economic data, I would have actually expected to see the market attempt to move higher. Today's Chicago Purchasing Managers Index rose to 53 from a reading of 52.3 in July, signaling ongoing slow, but steady, expansion in manufacturing in the Midwest. Although this was more or less in-line with what Wall Street was expecting, I'd still call this positive data. In addition, the final Michigan Consumer Confidence reading for the month of August came in at 82.1, which is slightly higher than anyone expected, and would signal that people are becoming more optimistic about the U.S. economy.

Then again, Syria continues to be a major sticking point for the markets. The possibility of conflict with Syria could ultimately divert government funds into different sectors than they're going to now, and has the potential to harm our relationship with other nations that we're currently trading with quite a bit.

By day's end, investors had weighed the economic data, and determined that the uncertainty caused by Syria was more important, pushing the S&P 500 lower by 5.20 points (-0.32%), to close at 1,632.97.

Despite the downtrodden day (and month), enterprise cloud-computing company Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM  ) ended on a strong note, with a gain of 12.6% after reporting market-topping second-quarter results. For the quarter, Salesforce.com grew revenue by a whopping 31%, to $957.1 million, as its adjusted EPS rose to $0.09, topping the Street by $0.02. More importantly, the company boosted its full-year sales forecast to $4 billion - $4.03 billion from its previous estimate of $3.84 billion - $3.88 billion. Investors still may want to exercise caution, however, as the company also lowered its full-year EPS forecast because of higher costs relating to stock-based compensation and amortization. Not to mention that Salesforce's marketing costs are soaring!

Oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) company Apache (NYSE: APA  ) shot higher by 9% after announcing that it had sold a 33% stake in its Egyptian drilling business to China's Sinopec for $3.1 billion. The move is important for Apache as it attempts to raise cash to pay down some of its massive debt load. It also helps move some of Apache's interests out of Egypt, which is currently one of many political hotbeds in the Middle East. For Sinopec, it adds even great geographic diversity. In all, it's a win-win for both parties involved as long as the Egyptian government approves the deal.

Finally, shares of oil and gas E&P company Murphy Oil (NYSE: MUR  ) added 2.5%, despite the fact that it had no company-specific news. The reason behind the move appears to relate to oil prices, which have hit practically two-year highs for West Texas Intermediate, and six-month highs for Brent. Higher oil prices are a tricky slope for consumers because it can begin negatively impacting them at the pump. However, until that happens, oil drillers like Murphy will bask in the beefier margins caused by higher oil prices.

Record oil and natural gas production is revolutionizing the United States' energy position. Finding the right plays, while historic amounts of capital expenditures are flooding the industry, will pad your investment nest egg. For this reason, the Motley Fool is offering a comprehensive look at three energy companies set to soar during this transformation in the energy industry. To find out which three companies are spreading their wings, check out the special free report, "3 Stocks for the American Energy Bonanza." Don't miss out on this timely opportunity; click here to access your report -- it's absolutely free. 


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