One event. One set of data. A dozen ways to spin it.

That's pretty much the story every month as Wall Street and the business press turn their attention to the monthly retail sales numbers, which came out this week.

Did retail sales go up? Down? Were they better than expected? Worse than expected? That depends on whom you ask. For the record, some said they were up, and more than expected, but to get that figure, you have to look at the spending without factoring in automotive sales -- and maybe without factoring in the skyrocketing price of gas. (Or maybe not.)

One thing's for sure. It meant something to someone somewhere. Headline writers, mostly. But probably not to you, Fool.

I'm going to spin it for you this way: Who cares?

Unless you're investing in some kind of retail futures instrument (I'm sure these must exist), you're investing in individual stocks -- and there are always winners in bad times, just like there are losers in good times. Trying to guess which is which based on macroeconomic data alone is a fool's errand -- which means it's a job for the "Street-Wise" and not the Fool.

Do you think people in this country are suddenly cutting their credit cards in half and putting an end to spending their money on necessities like lattes and the latest fall looks straight off the runway? I'll venture to say that not even gas at $3.50 a gallon would stop the majority of us from getting out there and spending money like there's no tomorrow. Why? Because people have been spending to the same tune for years now. It's been a long time since gasoline was cheap, but that hasn't hampered sales growth from the likes of Coach (NYSE:COH), McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), or Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), now, has it?

How do you explain that? I explain it the same way I explain years' worth of disappointing numbers from other companies like J. Jill (NYSE:JILL), Pier 1 (NYSE:PIR), or the recent sales slowdown from Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT): Some firms get the job done, and some don't.

When it comes to investing, you need to unlearn the old chestnut about how it's bad not to see the forest for the trees. In fact, while choosing stocks, do just the opposite: Concentrate on the trees and forget about the forest. (Also, while investing, it's a good idea to steer clear of existential questions over whether a tree that falls in an uninhabited forest makes a sound or not.)

Remember, it's about the company, not the economy. In any economic condition, there are going to be companies that prosper and those that do not. Focus on finding the ones that get the job done, and leave the macroeconomic gobbledygook to the pundits.

For more fresh fall Foolishness, try these on for size:

Seth Jayson starts to get greedy when everyone else is selling for the wrong reasons. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.