* Weak U.S. jobs data may provide limited boost to gold
* Thin trading with most markets shut for Easter break (Updates prices)
By Manolo Serapio Jr
SINGAPORE, April 3 (Reuters) - Gold held its grip on $1,200 an ounce in holiday-thinned trading on Friday ahead of a crucial U.S. jobs report that will provide clues on when the Federal Reserve will hike interest rates.
U.S. nonfarm payrolls are forecast to show a rise of 245,000 in March after gaining 295,000 in February, according to a Reuters poll of economists.
A weaker-than-expected report could prompt investors to increase bets that the Fed might hold off on raising interest rates until later this year, buoying safe-haven assets such as gold.
Spot gold was little changed at $1,200.80 an ounce by 0701 GMT. With a small weekly gain, bullion may be on course to stretch its winning streak to a third straight week.
Gold jumped nearly 2 percent on Wednesday in its sharpest single-day gain in two months after U.S. private hiring in March missed market forecasts, suggesting Friday’s more comprehensive employment report could also underwhelm.
While a weaker U.S. nonfarm payrolls would support bullion, only an extremely poor outcome would sustain any price rally, HSBC analyst James Steel said.
“Given the steepness of the rally this week in reaction to the (U.S. private hiring) numbers, job gains would likely have to be very disappointing to further boost bullion near term,” Steel said in a note.
“A stronger jobs number is more likely to have a greater impact to the downside for gold.”
Gold is particularly sensitive to shifts in U.S. interest rates, which also move the dollar, in which the metal is priced.
The dollar was slightly firmer against a basket of major currencies on Friday after two days of losses fuelled by anticipation that the U.S. employment report could disappoint.
Trading activity is expected to be lean with most markets, including those in the United States and Europe, shut for the Good Friday holiday.
Precious metals prices 0701 GMT Metal Last Change Pct chg YTD pct chg Spot Gold 1200.80 -1.04 -0.09 1.46 Spot Silver 16.73 0.02 +0.12 6.83 Spot Platinum 1153.85 4.35 +0.38 -3.84 Spot Palladium 741.00 -3.58 -0.48 -6.52 Euro/Dollar 1.0876 Dollar/Yen 119.68 COMEX gold and silver contracts show the most active months (Editing by Himani Sarkar and Prateek Chatterjee)