As states reopen, truckers see few bright spots

April 28, 2020

Special to Land Line

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Load-posting volume on DAT MembersEdge increased 6.2% last week ahead of Texas, Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, and other states easing lockdown orders on their economies. Truck rates remained low.

Truckload volumes remain well below seasonal levels both in terms of loads offered and loads moved and did little to prevent spot rates from sliding further into dangerously low territory for owner-operators and small carriers.

The number of trucks on MembersEdge dipped 1%, marking two straight weeks of declining capacity. There’s still lots of trucks available, and brokers are searching for carriers who will bite on low-priced loads.

National average spot rates, April

These are rolling national averages for the month through April 26 and include both a line-haul portion and a fuel surcharge. Spot rates are negotiated between the carrier and the broker or shipper and have fallen throughout April. Current averages will be lower.

  • Van: $1.67 per mile, 20 cents lower than the March average.
  • Flatbed: $1.95 per mile, down 24 cents compared to March.
  • Reefer: $1.99 per mile, also 24 cents lower compared to March.

What to watch

Van volumes

Compared to the previous week, the average spot van rate was higher on four of the 100 largest van lanes by volume. The number of loads moved on those 100 lanes increased 4.8%.

The national average van load-to-truck ratio was 0.94 last week, meaning there were more available trucks than loads a third consecutive week. For context, the average van ratio in April 2019 – the low month in a down year – was 1.45.

States with reduced stay-home restrictions

The average outbound van rates slumped in major markets where restrictions are beginning to be lifted:

  • Dallas: $1.45 per mile, down 6 cents.
  • Houston: $1.48 per mile, down 9 cents.
  • Atlanta: $1.66 per mile, down 16 cents.
  • Columbus, Ohio: $1.71 per mile, down 17 cents.
  • Memphis: $1.69 per mile, down 13 cents.

All five are retail hubs. This week may tell a different story as stay-home orders begin to expire.

Produce volumes

The reefer load-to-truck ratio moved up from 1.3 to 1.7 last week and the number of loads moved was higher on 14 of DAT’s top 72 reefer lanes by volume last week. Most of those lanes originated in Florida, Texas, and Arizona. Produce harvests are starting in California, where strong crop yields could provide a boost to demand.

Perishable fruits and vegetables will inject volume into the cold chain in the coming weeks. Two keys for carriers: whether food distributors and retailers are ready to manage traffic and reduce the gate and dock delays that plugged supply chains in March; and whether commercial kitchens, restaurants, and other high-volume produce users can successfully reopen.

Fuel surcharges

Spot rates are “all-in” rates. They theoretically combine a line-haul portion and a fuel surcharge. When fuel prices slip, as they have lately, the surcharge drops and the total rate declines accordingly.

This rolled-up rate has fallen far more sharply than the fuel surcharge has decreased for carriers hauling freight under contract, and it’s affecting the way some brokers price spot freight. When they see the price of fuel edging lower, they want to apply downward pressure on the spot rate as a whole. If you need more information about line-haul rates and fuel surcharges, visit DAT.com/Trendlines.

This summary’s month-to-date national average rates were generated using DAT RateView, which provides real-time reports on spot market and contract rates, as well as historical rate and capacity trends. The RateView database is comprised of more than $68 billion in freight payments.

For the latest spot market updates related to COVID-19, visit DAT.com/industry-trends/covid-19 and follow @LoadBoards on Twitter. You can post comments on the DAT Freight Talk blog or on the DAT Facebook page. You can listen to the DAT MembersEdge report every Wednesday on Land Line Now.

 

Read last weeks report from DAT Solutions here.

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