) --

JPMorgan Chase

(JPM) - Get Report

is reportedly sniffing around the battered commercial real estate market, which could be good news for regional banks saddled with exposure to the increasingly distressed market.

The downturn of the commercial real estate sector is typically the third and final leg of an ongoing credit cycle preceded by securities writedowns and then consumer losses. Typically, smaller banks have greater exposure to commercial real estate loans than the large banks, as the business is much more localized and "relationship-based."

Problems in

commercial real estate

started to become more apparent during the second quarter at many regional banks, including


(BBT) - Get Report


US Bancorp

(USB) - Get Report



(CMA) - Get Report


Regions Financial

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Marshall & Ilsley

( MI),

M&T Bank

(MTB) - Get Report


Zions Bancorp

(ZION) - Get Report

, among other names.

Both JPMorgan and


(C) - Get Report

have said they do not have large exposure to the commercial real estate market. But that could soon change. In an interview with


, Todd Maclin, JPMorgan's Texan head of commercial banking, says the sector may present opportunities next year.

"These assets are rapidly re-pricing, there are a number of distressed sellers, there are a number of financial institutions that are overexposed, and from our past experience those sorts of things generally translate into an opportunity as you approach the bottom," Maclin told



Regional banks are tied much more closely to the health of the economy as they depend much more on making money on the spread between the interest rates they offer depositors and the amount at which they lend money to businesses and consumers. This can be particularly stressful as borrowers don't pay their loans back, measured by nonperforming assets, and weak demand for lending as a result of an anemic economy.

As of June 30, JPMorgan's commercial real estate exposure was just $12.3 billion of its total $109 billion in commercial banking loans, according to



"I wouldn't say we've put our toes in the water but maybe we've taken our shoes and socks off," said Maclin.

-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.