Spot freight rates slumbering in spring

April 3, 2019

Special to Land Line


Load posting volume on DAT MembersEdge was virtually unchanged while the number of truck posts increased 5 percent, which kept van and reefer rates in check during the final week of March and first quarter 2019.

Last week’s relatively quiet freight market fit in with the rest of the month, which gave way to April with a whimper.

National average spot rates for March

  • Van: $1.86 per mile, down 3 cents from the February average.
  • Reefer: $2.18 per mile, also down 3 cents from February.
  • Flatbed: $2.35 per mile, up 2 cents compared to February’s average.

The national average price of diesel dropped less than a penny and remained at $3.08 per gallon last week.

Van trends

The national average van load-to-truck ratio climbed to 2.3 at the end of last week but with enough capacity to cover demand, rates failed to rise. Usually the van ratio has to climb above 2.5 to 3.0 loads per truck before we see sustained upward pressure on spot prices.

Meanwhile, in the top 100 van lanes on DAT MembersEdge, 56 rates moved lower while only 38 rose. Six were neutral.

Where rates are rising

Freight volumes out of Denver plunged yet the average outbound rate rose because of sharp increases on two high-volume lanes:

  • Denver to Chicago increased 11 cents to $1.23 per mile.
  • Denver to Phoenix gained 10 cents to $1.32 per mile.

Those are nice increases but the pricing still isn’t great.

Where rates are falling

Prices on van lanes in the East were weaker, including:

  • Buffalo to Charlotte fell 15 cents to $2.12 per mile.
  • Charlotte to Lakeland, Fla., dropped 13 cents to $2.33 per mile.
  • Allentown, Pa., to Cleveland lost 13 cents to $1.65 per mile.

Reefer trends

The lack of spot reefer freight this spring is hurting prices. On the top 72 reefer lanes last week, 42 lanes were down, just 24 were up, and six were unchanged. The average reefer load-to-truck ratio in March was 2.9, down from 3.7 in February.

Where rates are rising

Volume from the Lakeland, Fla., market gained more than 20 percent last week, and the average outbound rate ticked up 2 cents to $1.49 per mile.

Similar story in Elizabeth, N.J., where higher freight volumes pushed the average outbound rate up 3 cents to $1.88 per mile. Elizabeth to Boston got a 15-cent bump to $3.88 per mile.

Where rates are falling

Weather in the Midwest and Plains has delayed agricultural production and hindered transportation. The average outbound rate from Grand Rapids, Mich., fell 19 cents to $3.06 per mile, and two lanes keyed last week’s slump:

  • Grand Rapids to Cleveland was down 31 cents to $3.83 per mile.
  • Grand Rapids to Atlanta dropped 22 cents to $2.51 per mile.

Flatbed trends

The spot flatbed segment tells a sunnier story, as the national average rate has risen for five consecutive weeks. In the top 78 flatbed lanes, rates moved higher on 36 lanes while 42 were lower, although flatbed rates have increased 4 percent overall in the past two weeks.

Plenty of flatbed markets in the South and East experienced rising prices last week, and one lane in particular caught our attention: Houston to Oklahoma City jumped 38 cents to $2.55 per mile. That’s a good sign for oil and gas activity.

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.

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