On the day new statistics were released that showed the number of business bankruptcies rose 54 percent in 2008, the "B" word was being floated again for General Motors Corp.

This time, it was GM's independent auditors questioning the automaker's ability to continue as a "going concern" in a note included in its latest annual report. (GM's response is here.)

Is anyone surprised by this? Since Christmas, debate has raged over the merits of the federal rescue of GM and Chrysler L.L.C. versus the automakers using bankruptcy to reorganize their finances.

Deloitte & Touche L.L.P. did not use the word "bankruptcy." "Going concern" notes are dull reading. There's no gotcha, like "the brand's image never recovered following Michael Moore's 1989 political satire Roger & Me."

Rather the auditors cite GM's "recurring losses from operations, stockholders' deficit, and inability to generate sufficient cash flow to meet its obligations and sustain its operations."

Tell us something we don't already know. But Deloitte's "going concern" note would have been revolutionary earlier in this decade as Enron, WorldCom and other companies imploded in a string of accounting scandals.

Weiss Ratings Inc. reviewed the paper trail of 307 public companies that filed for Chapter 11 between Jan. 1, 2001, and June 30, 2002. Of those, 228 received an auditor's report within 366 days of going bankrupt.

Here's the kicker: Auditing firms gave a "clean bill of health" to 42 percent of the firms that eventually went bankrupt, Weiss Ratings said.

Let's call it progress that Deloitte sounded the alarm about its "substantial doubt." Should GM file for Chapter 11, it would have lots of company.

Yesterday, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said there were 43,546 business-related bankruptcy filings nationwide in 2008, up from 28,322 in 2007. That's bad, but not as bad as it was nearly 20 years ago when business bankruptcies peaked at 71,549 in 1991.