Truckload volumes make gains, but rates lag

May 5, 2020

Special to Land Line

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To say it’s not a trucker’s market right now is a mighty big understatement. Truckload rates tell the story.

The national average spot van rate on DAT MembersEdge hovered above $1.50 a mile last week as pricing continued to freefall. Rates for reefer and flatbed loads hit their lowest points since early 2017.

The number of loads on the network was up 33% compared to the previous week as fresh produce begins to move and some states relax their stay-at-home orders. Load-to-truck ratios were higher for all three equipment types, but a 4% reduction in capacity was a factor as more carriers sideline their equipment.

National average truckload rates, April

  • Van: $1.64 per mile, 23 cents lower than the March average.
  • Flatbed: $1.94 per mile, down 25 cents compared to March.
  • Reefer: $1.93 per mile, 26 cents lower than March.

Truckload rates slipped throughout the month of April. Entering May, the van rate averaged $1.51 a mile, the flatbed rate was $1.81, and the reefer rate was $1.92.

What to watch

Tighter capacity

The national average van ratio was 1.2 last week after nearly a month in the sub-1.0 range. Fewer truck postings was a factor. Owner-operators are parking their vehicles if they have the option and waiting for better pricing power.

Improving van volumes

Load availability increased on 44 of DAT’s top 100 van lanes, and rates were higher or neutral on 40 of those 100 lanes. Activity is finally picking up in states that have begun to reopen (including Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas). Demand is also heating up in produce regions (California, Florida, Georgia and Texas). Carriers also are hoping that the resumption of import traffic will bring some relief, and we’re seeing early evidence of that in Los Angeles; Houston; Savannah, Ga.; and Elizabeth, N.J.

Upward reefer trends

The reefer load-to-truck ratio went from 1.7 to 2.3 last week and the number of available loads improved on 23 of DAT’s top 72 reefer lanes by volume. Spot reefer volumes and pricing are riding an upward trend that’s typical for this time of year but they’re starting from historic lows.

California and Florida produce

The number of posted loads out of Los Angeles jumped 8% compared to the previous week, while Fresno, Calif., and Ontario, Calif., each gained 11%. Miami was up 26%.

Average outbound rates moved higher in key markets:

  • Fresno: $1.92 per mile, up 5 cents compared to the previous week.
  • Los Angeles: $2.35 per mile, up 2 cents.
  • Lakeland, Fla.: $1.70 per mile, up 13 cents.
  • Miami: $1.88 per mile, up 19 cents.

Flatbed rates remain weak

The national average flatbed load-to-truck ratio increased from 4.4 to 6.6 last week but sits well below 22.4 from a year ago. Volumes on 78 high-volume lanes were neutral at a time when construction, energy, manufacturing, and other flatbed markets should be accelerating.

At $1.79 a mile, the average spot flatbed rate is down 18% over the last two months. Volumes from Houston—the largest market for flatbed loads—improved 1.7% compared to the previous week but the average outbound rate dropped 6 cents to $2.01 a mile.

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. Actual spot rates are negotiated between the carrier and the broker.

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.

Here is last week’s report from DAT Solutions.

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