Fitch, the ratings agency, has just brought out a special report on borrowing by European governments, and whether it's sustainable. The headline conclusion supports what I said yesterday: they think that the rise in debt levels is manageable for big countries like the UK. But the fine print is not very reassuring. .
Fitch projects that European governments will have to raise a grand total of nearly 2 trillion euros in 2009, or 17% of GDP. That's 45% higher than last year. Borrowing by the five largest borrowers - France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK - will be at a record level relative to GDP.
The figures are even worse for some of the smaller countries: Ireland needs to raise 47bn euros on the markets this year - a whopping 26% of GDP.
The sheer pace of the downturn in EU budgets is down to a combination of worsening economic news and governments' stimulus efforts. Fitch reckons that gloomier economic news since September will add, on average, another 1.5% of GDP to government deficits.
Some are now expecting further revisions to the UK's deficit numbers as a result of last week's dismal GDP figures for the last quarter of 2008. We won't find out the scale of the damage until the budget - although the Institute for Fiscal Studies will be giving its best guess in its Green Budget tomorrow.
For what it's worth, I don't expect the budget to show borrowing revisions for this year of much more than 0.5% of GDP - around £10bn. But that's only because the government forecasts were so recent, and already so gloomy.
Fitch thinks the UK's deficit will peak this year at 8.3% of GDP - second only to Ireland. But, interestingly, our funding needs for this year are actually lower than the other large economies because we have relatively little old debt coming up for repayment.
That's good news, for this year. But it could store up problems for next year, because few expect investors to remain quite so keen to buy up sovereign debt.
As I said yesterday, the Treasury is still borrowing very cheaply - the interest rate on 10-year debt is about one percentage point below where it was last summer. That's because investors everywhere are still seeking the safest investments around, and even high-grade companies are cutting debt, not looking for more.
That won't be true forever (or let's hope not). In a year or so, government debt management offices might find themselves in a more competitive market.
The Fitch report raises another, related, worry. The uncertainty about the future means that investors at the moment like short-term government paper best - interest rates on short-term debt have fallen most of all.
If European governments all rush to save money by creating more short-term debt, that could raise problems down the road when conditions change, and they all find themselves simultaneously trying to roll over a lot of debt.
The heads of the World Bank and IMF yesterday criticized governments for not co-operating more in the face of the crunch. He was talking about bank bailouts and fiscal stimulus programmes. But the dry - increasingly central - area of debt management is another where countries might do well to follow their lead.
Update 1312: Several of you have asked whether we should put any store by a report by a major ratings agency. Wasn't it this kind of paragon that got us into this mess, by thinking you could turn risky sub-prime assets into triple-A?
You have a point. After the mistakes - if that's not too small a word - of the last few years, it will take time for the big ratings agencies to regain their credibility. If they ever do.
Trouble is, at the moment the ratings agencies have a pretty critical role in the global financial system. In fact, the new Basel II accord for bank capital standards makes them even bigger players. That may change. But whatever their past failures, regulators and governments have not yet come up with a better way.
That makes the views of the ratings agencies important - even if they might be wrong. That's especially true for governments. If the major ratings agencies don't think the UK is going to have trouble managing its public debt - and so far they don't - then the UK will keep its triple-A status. That, in turn, makes its easier for the government to borrow, and a serious debt problem that much less likely.
As we've learned, the fact that a ratings agency says something doesn't make it so. But in the imperfect financial system we all still live in, it sure does help.