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Bitcoin tumbles 33% after hitting new highs

A sell-off in bitcoin, the world's most popular cryptocurrency, just as it was gaining a measure of acceptance among established exchanges, caught traders by surprise.

The price of bitcoin fell by one-third from a record high of more than $16,387.99 on Dec. 21 to a low of $10,947.69 by early morning in New York, according to Coindesk, one of the unregulated exchanges where bitcoin trades. It had recovered to $11,994.85 by mid-morning.

Earlier this month, Cboe Global Markets and CME Group began offering bitcoin futures on their exchanges. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. reportedly is building a cryptocurrency trading desk which could be up and running by the middle of next year.

Bitcoin is touted by adherents as a more efficient, global exchange mechanism than fiat currencies and its underlying technology, blockchain, is already viewed as being the future for secure online transactions.

But the unregulated nature of cryptocurrency can also lead to volatility. Regulators have also been concerned by bitcoin's usefulness to criminals as they traffic in illegal goods and launder money.