Fleet Management

Spot Truckload Freight Rates, Loads Ease Following November Gains

December 14, 2016

By Evan Lockridge

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The amount of freight available to haul from the spot truckload market surged in November as rates generally moved higher, according to newly released figures from DAT Solutions and its network of load boards, while both slowed a little during the first full week in December.

After spiking the week before, the number of available loads on the spot truckload freight market edged down 9% for the week ending Dec. 10 compared to the previous seven days.

Spot freight volume remains higher than usual given the time of year, although load-to-truck ratios dipped across all three equipment types, according to DAT. The van load to truck ratio declined 28% from a 30-month high the week before, hitting 3.4 loads per truck. Reefers fell 25% to 6.1 loads per truck while flatbeds moved 6% lower to 17.7 loads per truck.

With volumes down and the number of posted trucks up 15% last week, national average van and refrigerated rates declined slightly. Vans fell 1 cent to $1.73 per mile, following an 8 cents increase last week, as reefers gave up 1 cent to $1.95 per mile. In contrast, flatbeds edged higher by 1 cent for an average of $1.92 per mile, its best showing in the last four weeks.

The rates include a fuel surcharge, which increased 1 cent on average after the national average price of on-highway diesel climbed another cent to $2.49 per gallon.

Last week, the number of van load posts fell 17% and truck posts increased 15% week over week. At $2.10 per mile, Los Angeles is the biggest van market where outbound rates are lower now than they were a month ago. Other key van lanes showed solid outbound rates for the season despite declines in some cases:

  • Denver, $1.38 per mile, up 10 cents
  • Chicago, $2.09 per mile, down 2 cents
  • Charlotte, $1.98 per mile, down 4 cents
  • Buffalo, $2.18 per mile, up 4 cents
  • Houston, $1.51 per mile, up 1 cent

In the reefer sector the number of load posts fell 15% and truck posts increased 15% last week. Idaho is at the epicenter of reefer activity with 80 million pounds of potatoes shipping out every week, according to DAT. Last Friday, the load-to-truck ratio in Twin Falls hit 18.5. By comparison, the national average is 6.1 reefer loads per truck.

The number of flatbed load posts increased 7.5% last week and truck posts increased 14% compared to the previous week. Several outbound markets are showing signs of recovery in December:

  • Phoenix, $1.83 per mile, down 1 cent last week but up over the last month
  • Rock Island, Illinois., $2.37 per mile, up 2 cents
  • Cleveland, $2.21 per mile, up 5 cents
  • Savannah, $2.36 per mile, up 9 cents
  • Harrisburg, $3.17 per mile, up 13 cents

E-Commerce Boosts November Truckload Volume and Rates

Meantime, DAT reported a sharp increase in e-commerce traffic and refrigerated produce is extending the busy holiday season for truckload carriers, as the availability of spot truckload freight gained in November on both a month-over-month and year-over-year basis.

The DAT November Freight Index reflects a continued pattern of unseasonably strong freight volumes starting in July. Load-to-truck ratios increased significantly for van, refrigerated and flatbed freight last month, meaning there were more available loads for each truck posted on the DAT Network of load boards. A change in this ratio is typically followed by a change in freight rates, according to DAT.

The November Freight Index reflects a continued pattern of unseasonably strong freight volumes in the spot market starting in July. Graphic: DAT
The November Freight Index reflects a continued pattern of unseasonably strong freight volumes in the spot market starting in July. Graphic: DAT

The availability of van freight on the spot market surged in November, up 4.9% over October and up 63% compared to November 2015. At $1.46 per mile, the national average van line haul rate increased 3 cents, or 2.1%, compared to October, followed by further rate increases during the first week of December on the strength of traffic from Memphis, Denver, and other hubs for e-commerce and parcel freight.

Reefer freight availability increased 20% compared to October, due to robust fall harvests and additional demand for fresh food at Thanksgiving. Year-over-year, reefer volume was up 58% in November. The national average reefer rate was $1.74 per mile, up 6 cents, or 3.6%, compared to October and 2 cents, or 1.2%, compared to November 2015.

Flatbed freight availability declined seasonally compared to October, but by only 6.1%, a smaller margin than the ten-year average decline of 26%. Flatbed volume rose 56% compared to November 2015. The increased demand did not translate into an improvement in rates, however. The national average flatbed rate was $1.66 per mile, down 1 cent, or 0.6%, month-over-month, and 6 cents, or 3.5%, compared to November 2015.

The average fuel surcharge, a component of the total spot market rate paid to carriers, edged down 1 cent per mile for vans, which represents about a 4.5% change, depending on the equipment type. The surcharge is pegged to the retail price of diesel fuel, adjusting for average fuel consumption by each trailer type.

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