After some surprisingly upbeat US economic data, hopes ran high that Friday's jobs report would show a pickup in hiring that would give a shot of momentum to a still-sputtering economic recovery.
The Labor Department report on payrolls and unemployment was expected to show a gain of 80,000 jobs in June and the jobless rate steady at 9.1 percent, according to the consensus of forecasters.
That would be only marginally better than May, when 54,000 jobs were added.
But some recent data suggest the picture may be brighter. Payrolls firm ADP said Thursday that private businesses, excluding the farm sector, added 157,000 jobs in June, a solid jump after the tepid 36,000 increase in May over April.
"A number like this, while it is just one month's number, suggests that really maybe what happened (in May) was a pause in the economic expansion and that, as we head into summer months, we are going to pick up some momentum," said Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Advisers.
"One can now see the prospect for 150,000 to 175,000 print given the relationship between ADP and private payrolls in the Bureau of Labor Statistics release," said David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff.
The Labor Department reported separately that unemployment claims fell to 418,000 in the week to July 2, down from 432,000 a week earlier.
Both figures were better than economists had expected, but neither was stellar: the ADP figures were still off the 200,000 monthly pace of job creation in the first quarter.
"There are some hard spots in the soft patch. That's why stock prices rallied so nicely last week," said economist Ed Yardeni at Yardeni Research.
"In addition, the Greek can was kicked down the road again last week, reducing the risks of an imminent hard landing like the one that followed the Lehman meltdown."
Economist Nigel Gault of IHS Global raised his forecast for Friday's payroll gains by 40 percent to 140,000 -- 165,000 new jobs in the private sector and 25,000 lost in the public sector for the entire month.
Deutsche Bank economists upped their projection to a net 175,000 from 100,000, and predicted the overall jobless rate would drop a notch to 9.0 percent.
Yet many analysts remained cautious about the numbers.
"We need to see claims drop below the 400,000 mark on a sustained basis to signal the re-emergence of stronger job creation, and at the moment claims seem to have leveled off somewhat above that level," said analysts at RDQ Economics.
Last week, data showed the US manufacturing sector picked up pace in June, hinting at a pickup in the economy at the end of a slumping second quarter.
The ISM purchasing managers index for the manufacturing sector climbed 1.8 percent in June to a better-than-expected 55.3, from 53.5 in May.
Data also showed pending home sales rose in May, a hopeful sign for the beleaguered US housing market.
Asian stock markets rose on Friday after the release of the ADP jobs figures stoked hopes that the recovery in the world's number one economy might be back on track.
The euro meanwhile held steady against the dollar in Asia as market players cautiously awaited the release of the government's data later in the global trading day.