MADRID – Spain is under rising pressure to find a lifeline for its deeply troubled banks.

Politicians in Europe and investors around the world are worried that the recession-hit country can’t come up with the money needed to save its banks without bankrupting the government. Expectations are rising that Spain’s leaders will have to seek an international bailout for banks crumbling under the weight of bad real estate loans.

As Spain’s leaders struggle for a solution to their banking crisis, the country’s borrowing costs have soared close to the level that forced the governments of Greece, Portugal and Ireland to seek financial rescues.

As much as (euro) 100 billion ($126 billion) may be needed to bolster Spanish banks, the credit rating agency Fitch said Thursday. Fitch, which had previously said (euro) 30 billion was needed, downgraded the country’s debt rating Thursday to two notches above junk and warned that further downgrades were possible.

Spain sold (euro) 2 billion ($2.52 billion) in bonds earlier Thursday, but had to pay investors much higher rates than in previous bond sales. There is a growing sense that time is running out for Spain’s government and banks to continue muddling through.

The sale came after Spain’s economy minister traveled Wednesday to Brussels to huddle with key decision-makers in the capital of the European Union. And on Thursday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy hosted his counterpart from the Netherlands, one of the 17 eurozone countries that would have to approve outside help if Spain can’t save its banks on its own.

Rajoy said this week that Europe “needs to support those that are in difficulty.”

Spain is the fourth-largest economy in the 17-country eurozone, behind Germany, France and Italy. Its economy is nearly five times bigger than Greece’s, making its economic problems much more worrisome for leaders in Europe.

A widening recession and financial crisis in one of Europe’s largest economies would drag down neighboring countries and hurt companies and investors around the world. An international bailout of Spanish banks could relieve some of the pressure on the Spanish government.