Van, reefer spot rates on MembersEdge near two-year highs

August 19, 2020

Special to Land Line

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The year 2020 continues to cut its own path through truckload freight history now that we are in August. National average spot van and reefer rates on DAT MembersEdge closed last week at their highest points in nearly two years, and the van load-to-truck ratio was above 5.0 for the third straight week, unprecedented for the month of August.

The overall number of available trucks on the load board network was unchanged compared to the previous week while load posts declined almost 3%. Looser capacity typically signals that spot rates may slide.

National average spot rates, August

  • Van: $2.19 per mile, up 16 cents compared to July.
  • Flatbed: $2.27 per mile, up 7 cents.
  • Reefer: $2.42 per mile, up 12 cents.

Spot rates are tracking above seasonal norms. The spot van rate averaged $1.82 per mile in August 2019, a 37-cent difference versus last week’s national average.

DAT Solutions national average load-to-truck ratio graph

Trends to watch

The average spot rate was higher on 55 of DAT’s top 100 van lanes by volume compared to the previous week. The number of loads moved increased on 81 of those 100 van lanes by a total of 8.2%.

Imports slowing

Following a surge of imports in June, inbound spot van load volumes have slowed in several major on-demand warehouse fulfillment freight hubs, including Stockton and Ontario, Calif.; Phoenix; Denver; Joliet, Ill.; Elizabeth, N.J.; Allentown, Pa.; Indianapolis; Memphis, Tenn.; and Lexington, Ky. This suggests that certain retail inventories have been replenished after a roller-coaster six months.

Reliable SoCal

Southern California has been a reliable source of spot van freight. Outbound volumes from Ontario rose for the fifth straight week and are up 31% month over month. Rates followed suit, peaking at $2.85 per mile (excluding fuel) on the Ontario-Dallas lane, which was the No. 1 outbound destination from Ontario. Los Angeles recorded the third-highest load counts to Dallas for a combined 11% of all SoCal loads into Dallas last week.

Automotive markets

In the Midwest, van load volumes are growing in automotive manufacturing markets, including Detroit, and Cleveland, Toledo and Columbus, Ohio.

Reefer spot rates

The average rate increased on 46 of DAT’s top 72 reefer lanes last week, although the total volume moved was unchanged week over week.

Produce shipments

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that seasonal year-over-year volumes of produce decreased last week by 17% for imported truckload shipments. One bright spot for imports: Elizabeth, N.J., where outbound reefers averaged $2.23 a mile last week. That’s up 21 cents since the beginning of August. Volumes have increased for four successive weeks.

Produce season in the Pacific Northwest is hitting its stride. Medford, Ore.; Portland, Ore.; Pendleton, Ore.; and Twin Falls, Idaho, are key markets in the region with outbound reefer load volumes up 18% week over week and 30% month over month. Cherries, pears, apples and peaches are keeping carriers busy; even potatoes require refrigeration this time of the year, with a trailer set-point of 50 degrees.

Lumber, construction sectors

The lumber, building, and construction sectors are dominating flatbed demand although the pace of increase in spot rates appears to be slowing. Hurricane season remains the wild card to watch in this sector. Opportunities on the spot market tend to increase both before and after severe weather arrives. Prior to a storm, shippers are repositioning freight away from potentially affected areas. Afterward, flatbed carriers are in demand to move machinery and construction supplies. Watch the weather—and the load board.

These rates represent averages from last week and this week will be different. Negotiate the best deal you can get on every haul, and look at the rates and load-to-truck ratios in MembersEdge to understand which way the rates are trending.

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. If you’re a company driver, DAT has a free app called DAT Trucker. It shows where to find fuel, truck stops, weigh stations, Walmart stores, and other important locations while you’re on the road. It’s in Google Play or Apple’s App Store.