Spot freight volumes slow during Thanksgiving week

December 3, 2020

Land Line Staff

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Load board activity declined sharply last week, with carriers, brokers, and shippers taking time off for Thanksgiving. Freight that did move was priced at a premium, with rates rising on most high-traffic lanes.

The overall number of loads posted on DAT MembersEdge fell 43% while truck posts dropped 27% during the week ending Nov. 29, in line with expectations for a holiday-shortened shipping schedule.

Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.

National average spot rates, November

  • Van: $2.45 per mile, up 5 cents compared to the average in October.
  • Reefer: $2.69 per mile, up 11 cents from October, fueled by Thanksgiving food demand.
  • Flatbed: $2.44 per mile, up from the previous week but down 1 cent from the October average.

These are national average spot rates for the month through Nov. 29. These averages are based on actual transactions. DAT doesn’t set spot rates—each transaction is individually negotiated between the carrier and the broker or shipper and will vary from load to load and lane to lane.

Trends

Mind the calendar

Load posting activity fell more than truck posts, which produced lower load-to-truck ratios. The van ratio averaged 3.8 last week, down from 4.5; the reefer ratio was 6.3, down from 9.7; and the flatbed ratio was 24.9, down from 30.0.

Normally, multi-point declines in spot load-to-truck ratios would indicate a drop in rates but that wasn’t the case last week. Many truckers use the load board to position themselves close to home for Thanksgiving, which limits capacity, and most of the week’s delivery activity has to happen before Thursday, adding to shippers’ sense of urgency and willingness to take a higher rate.

Indeed, the number of loads moved was down on 95 of the DAT MembersEdge top 100 van lanes last week, but the average rate was higher on 62 of those lanes. Some of the biggest increases were out of markets were rates are typically low, like Seattle and Denver.

Christmas tree season

Christmas tree-shipping season is short but intense, a five-week period peaking around Thanksgiving. We’re seeing high demand for trucks in Oregon and North Carolina, which together account for 56% of the annual Christmas tree harvest in the United States. Oregon should average about 450 loads per day, while North Carolina will run around 360 per day.

For short distances, trees can usually go in a dry van, but for longer distances, they often go in a reefer trailer. It all depends on the customer. At the moment, the demand for tree shipments coincides with produce season for apples, potatoes, and onions in the Pacific Northwest, and sweet potatoes in North Carolina.

Expect demand for trucks in these states to stay elevated for at least the next couple of weeks, if not longer.

Reefer-freight transitions

Spot reefer freight mirrored dry van trends but they were more pronounced last week. Of DAT’s top 72 reefer lanes by volume, only six had lower prices compared to the previous week. Volume on these lanes was down 3.2% with food and beverage freight already in stock ahead of Thanksgiving.

Overall, reefer load posts were down 48% week over week although reefer volumes remain 55% higher compared to this time last year. Truck posts also decreased by 19% week over week and are at the same level as they were this time last year.

We’re starting to see harvest and food-processing activity make gains in southern Arizona, the nation’s “winter salad bowl.” Lettuce is highly perishable, which means the challenge for growers is to pick it, pack it, and get it to consumers. The lane from Yuma, Ariz., to Los Angeles rose 17 cents to an average of $2.04 a mile last week.

Produce volumes are up in the Lakeland, Fla., market where outbound reefer volumes increased 6% week over week. Tight capacity in Lakeland sent the average outbound rate up by 18 cents to $1.61 a mile.

Flatbed market stays cool

Last week, volumes in DAT’s 10 largest markets for spot flatbed freight dropped by a combined 39% compared to the previous week. Only four of the 135 markets we track weekly reported increases. Still, flatbed load post volumes are almost triple what they were at this time in 2019, and the national average spot flatbed rate is 44 cents higher.

Key flatbed lanes last week:

  • Houston to Fort Worth, Texas: $2.37 a mile, down 1 cent.
  • Fort Worth to Houston: $2.40 a mile, down 2 cents.
  • Lakeland to Miami: $2.77 a mile, down 1 cent.
  • Atlanta to Lakeland: $2.91 a mile, unchanged week over week.
  • Los Angeles to Phoenix: $3.34 a mile, up 4 cents.

Learn more

You can get all of the latest spot rate information on our website at DAT.com/Trendlines. Or take a deeper dive into the market at DAT.com/blog. We’ll tell you what you need to know and why it matters. Also look for DAT Freight & Analytics across your social feeds on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and join the DAT iQ team live on YouTube or LinkedIn Live at 10 a.m. Eastern every Tuesday.

Got questions or comments? Send us an email to AskIQ@dat.com—we’re here to help and we love to hear from you.

Freight can’t move without healthy drivers. Take care of yourselves out there, and thank you for your hard work. LL

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