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Why Market Highs Are Less Than Exciting

New highs brings little excitement. The S&P 500 and the NASDAQ are sitting at highs for the year, but why doesn't it feel like it? Is it the light volume, the low volatility?

A little of both, but the reason it doesn't feel exciting is ... the rally is getting narrower and narrower. We're down to commodity and techs; that's it. Banks? Nothing for a month. Pharma/consumer: sideways to slightly down.

Bonds are higher after 1) the Japanese prime minister said his confidence in the dollar was "unshakable," and 2) The WSJ front page says it's unlikely the Fed will unlikely boost the size of their asset purchases beyond what's already in place. That's helping to send are sending yields to their lowest level of the week.

Elsewhere:

1) Barclays sold Barclays Global Investors to Blackrock for $13.5 billion, about half in cash and half in Blackrock stock. Because Barclays will retain a 19.9 percent economic interest in the combined entity, Bank of America's stake in Blackrock will decline to about 34 percent from 47 percent and PNC's stake will fall to 24.6 percent from 32 percent.

The good news is that this will add significantly to Barclays capital base; the bad news is that they are selling their crown jewel. BGI was a pioneer in the ETF business through its iShares, which continues to expand rapidly.

Blackrock now becomes a truly big, global player in investment management services. John Varley, Barclays Group CEO, and Bob Diamond, Barclays Group President, are being nominated to the board of Blackrock.

2) Hartford Financial trading down 2 percent pre-open following its announcement of accepting $3.4 billion in TARP money. The property & casualty insurer said it will raise additional capital through a $750 million stock sale.

Maria's Blog: Hartford Financial CEO On His Retirement
TARP Repayments to Start Next Week: Report

3) Semiconductor manufacturer National Semiconductor is down 1 percent pre-open despite posting Q4 results that beat analyst estimates. Just like Texas Instruments earlier this week, the company noted improvement in business conditions, with "increasing orders from our wireless handset customers."

In its first quarter outlook, the company sees revenues between $285 million-$305 million, above the consensus forecast of $282 million.

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Questions? Comments? tradertalk@cnbc.com

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  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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