DAT Solutions: Spot market makes small gains ahead of uncertain March

March 4, 2020

Special to Land Line

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Spot market truckload rates on DAT MembersEdge were in line with seasonal expectations – a fancy term for “low” – while load-to-truck ratios inched higher during the final week of February.

Generally stable national average rates and ratios at this time of year are signs that shippers are emerging from a typical midwinter lull.

We did not see indications that the coronavirus outbreak and its supply chain disruptions affected freight on the spot market in a significant way last week. This may change depending on import levels, how quickly Chinese ports can reduce their backlogs and when those sailings start to arrive here. We’ll keep you posted.

National average spot market truckload rates, February

  • Van: $1.79 per mile.
  • Reefer: $2.09 per mile.
  • Flatbed: $2.14 per mile.

Van trends

The national average van load-to-truck ratio increased from 1.9 to 2.1 last week, part of a five-week upward trend.

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Load-to-truck ratios were higher in the Los Angeles market during February and ended the month at a high of 2.6 loads per truck for van equipment. Inbound and outbound rates in southern California continue to be inconsistent. We talked about keeping an eye on Los Angeles-Chicago last week and things did not improve much: Chicago to Los Angeles rose 7 cents to $1.47 per mile, while L.A. to Chicago fell 6 cents to $1.22. You can find loads in L.A., but it means running a lot of miles for not a lot of money.

Flatbed trends

Truckload rates for open-deck equipment have ranged from $2.15 to $2.17 per mile as a national average since October. (November was a little lower, but you get the idea.) Most of the flatbed action was in the Southeast last week:

  • Raleigh, N.C., to Baltimore rebounded, up 29 cents to $3.14 per loaded mile. If you need a load from Baltimore to Raleigh, spot rates are in the range of $1.85 to $2.00 per mile.
  • Birmingham, Ala., to Chicago averaged $2.33 a mile while Chicago to Birmingham paid $1.94.
  • Memphis, Tenn., to Tulsa, Okla., rose a few cents to $2.79 a mile and Tulsa to Memphis paid $1.17, assuming you could find a load back.

Maybe take a short haul to Oklahoma City and find load to Memphis from there. That combo will boost your rate to $2.24 per loaded mile, and add 150 or 175 miles to your roundtrip. Check out some other recommended triangular routes in DAT MembersEdge Pro – the feature is called “tri-haul.”

Las Vegas to Stockton, Calif., dropped 4 cents to $2.10 per mile, and Stockton to Las Vegas paid $2 flat. If you want to drive 1,000 miles, you may be better off doing two roundtrips between Las Vegas and Los Angeles for $2.34 out and $2.73 back.

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Tri-haul of the week

Here’s a good one for all of you intrastate carriers in Texas.

The average Dallas to Laredo, Texas, van rate rose 6 cents last week but paid just $1.25 a mile while Laredo to Dallas lost 2 cents to $2.07. The 870-mile round trip averaged $1.64 a mile for total revenue of $1,422.

The professional version of DAT MembersEdge can help you build a tri-haul by suggesting higher-paying third lanes for your return trip. One option is to route through Houston, where you know you can find a load.

So if you’re in Dallas and you want to get to Laredo without losing your shirt, take a load from Dallas to Houston; the lane averaged $2.14 per loaded mile last week. Then find a load from Houston to Laredo, which averaged $1.35. Not great, but it beats driving 450 miles for $1.20 a mile. Then come back from Laredo to Dallas at $2.07 per loaded mile and you end up with almost $1,900 for the tri-haul. You’re adding another 150 or 160 miles to your route but making almost $500 more if it fits with your schedule. You can haul loads all week long and make good money without ever leaving the state.

DAT tri-haul chart

Rates are derived from DAT RateView, which provides real-time reports on prevailing spot market and contract rates, as well as historical rate and capacity trends. All reported rates include fuel surcharges.

For the latest spot market load availability and rate information, visit the load board or tune in to Land Line Now. You can get all of the latest rate information at DAT.com per industry-trends per Trendlines, comment on the DAT Freight Talk blog, or join us on Facebook. On Twitter you can tweet your questions to us @LoadBoards and have your questions answered by DAT industry analyst Mark Montague.