If there's a case study for how watching daily market moves can be an exercise in futility, today's a good example. Looking at a popular investing website earlier, I saw headlines trumpeting how stocks were on the rise after manufacturing data were released. Upon refreshing my browser hours later, a new lead headline had emerged: "U.S. Stocks Fall After Manufacturing Data."

Huh? Good manufacturing data?
Those two headlines might not be as nonsensical as they first seem. In Asia, the Hang Seng (INDEX: ^HSI) index did see a 2.19% jump in part because manufacturing data out of China were better than expected. The Purchasing Managers Index, or PMI, in the country fell from 50.4 in May to 50.2. While that's a month-over-month decline, since many estimates pointed toward an even worse drop, it beat estimates. For those looking for a reading less tainted by large state-backed firms that can manipulate their numbers, banking giant HSBC's PMI reading, which surveys smaller firms, read 48.2 in June. Like the official PMI reading, that's off 0.2 from the month before.

Bad manufacturing data
However, as data from the United States rolled in, the mood changed. In the U.S., readings from the Institute of Supply Management caved in, from 53.5 in May to 49.7 in June. That's a sizable drop, but it's important because a level of 50 is the line between expansion and contraction. It's also important because Bloomberg's estimates from economists called for a reading of 52. When it comes to short-term market moves, expectations are everything, and these readings definitely were well below what investors expected.

A big global economy
And so it goes in this big global economy. While the United States looks like a bright spot one day as investors fret over the eurozone collapsing and China's growth rapidly slowing, the next day trouble signs emerge in the United States while data out of China and Europe are positive.

As far as today goes, investors seem to be largely shrugging off U.S. manufacturing and focusing on the global positives. The Dow Jones (INDEX: ^DJI) is down 0.55% as of 11:15 a.m. EDT. Meanwhile, S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC) losses are a smaller 0.35% while the Nasdaq (INDEX: ^IXIC) is essentially flat at a loss of 0.02%.

In company news, the big announcements today all center on M&A. Dell's (Nasdaq: DELL) long-rumored acquisition of Quest Software is going forward, while Bristol-Myers Squibb is shelling out $7 billion to buy Amylin. Neither of the acquired companies is seeing the usual post-merger bounce. In both cases, the acquisition process has been widely reported by the media, causing previous run-ups in the targeted companies. In fact, Quest Software is actually down today.

Take the long-term view
When looking at economic data like today's, the important thing to remember is that trying to keep up, or even trade on, particular economic data is an exercise in futility. With conflicting data points out on a nearly daily basis, it's important to look at more structural issues like whether the euro is built for the long-term or whether China's economy can properly make the jump from a reliance on infrastructure and investments to a reliance on consumer spending. From there, your job is to find great companies that have the best shot of long-term success even if the global economy hits more speed bumps.

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Eric Bleeker owns shares of no companies listed above. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.