Stocks mostly dipped late on Thursday, as raised hopes for a stellar payrolls report on Friday may be hard to match.
Both the Dow and the S&P 500 edged down into negative territory although the Nasdaq held onto moderate gains a day after U.S. stocks surged more than 4 percent on central banks' cheaper dollar funding for Europe.
The U.S. economy is expected to have added 122,000 jobs in November. But a stronger-than-expected private-sector employment report from ADP earlier in the week caused some analysts to increase their payrolls forecasts, which has raised expectations heading into Friday.
And even with a higher-than-forecast number, the unemployment rate would still be close to 9 percent.
I can't believe people are getting excited about 150,000 (new jobs) four years into this economic malaise, said Chad Morganlander, portfolio manager at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co in Florham Park, New Jersey.
The U.S. economy entered a strong recession in December 2007. A figure of about 150,000 new jobs a month is the estimated growth in U.S. payrolls needed to keep up with the rising population.
Despite the importance of the payrolls figure, the market will still be focused on the borrowing costs of euro-zone nations. Spanish and French government bond yields fell after well-bid auctions on Thursday, but relief may be brief with no solution for the euro zone's debt crisis in sight.
The financial sector, the strongest gainer in Wednesday's huge rally, gave back some of its gains. The S&P's financial index <.GSPF> slid 1 percent.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 21.11 points, or 0.18 percent, at 12,024.57. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 2.05 points, or 0.16 percent, at 1,244.91. But the Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 9.64 points, or 0.37 percent, at 2,629.98.
All three major indexes climbed more than 4 percent in Wednesday's broad rally on heavy volume, with the Dow industrials gaining almost 500 points. It was the Dow's biggest daily gain, in points and percentage, sine late March 2009.
The rally came on news the world's major central banks agreed to cut the cost for European banks to borrow much-needed dollars.
In the latest piece of better-than-expected data, the pace of growth in the U.S. manufacturing sector picked up in November to its strongest level since June, and new orders rose, according to a report from the Institute for Supply Management.
However, new claims for unemployment insurance rose last week in a reminder that any healing in the country's battered labor market will be slow.
The ISM number was very strong and follows a lot of positive data that we've seen lately, said Mark Foster, who helps manage $500 million at Kirr Marbach & Co in Columbus, Indiana.
That shows things are getting better, but it isn't enough to keep us going today.
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(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Jan Paschal)