Price of bitcoin plummets over threat that virtual currency will split

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Bitcoin shed about a fifth of its value over the weekend as an increasingly bitter split in the developer community behind the virtual currency threatened to literally break it in two.

Bitcoin was trading at $999 on Sunday after trading as low as $970 on Saturday. That was down markedly from a high of $1,259 last week.

Until the weekend, the price of bitcoin had held steady even after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had rejected a proposed bitcoin exchange-traded fund the week before. The ETF was an exciting idea that would have attracted new money to the currency but didn’t carry fundamental implications. The fight among bitcoin developers does.

Developers, exchanges, and entrepreneurs have been fighting bitterly for nearly two years over a seemingly small technical question: the size limit of a “block,” or batch of transactions that gets processed on the bitcoin network. Currently, only blocks of a one-megabyte maximum can be processed. Some in the industry want to increase that size, as a result of increasing capacity on the network.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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