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U.S. Spot Freight Rates Decline, Canadian Spot Market Improves

April 20, 2016

By Evan Lockridge

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A decline in available freight and an increase in truck capacity pushed spot truckload rates down across all three equipment types during the week ending April 16, according to DAT Solutions and its network of load boards.

The number of trucks posted increased 4.5% while the number of available loads fell 6.4% compared to the previous week. However, demand was up in major markets, a signal that spot rates may soon rebound.

In the van market, load volume fell 6% and capacity increased 5% last week, resulting in a van load-to-truck ratio of 1.4 to 1, down 10% from the week before.. The national average van rate fell 3 cents to $1.50 per mile, marking the third straight week of declines. All reported rates include fuel surcharges.

Several major markets experienced higher average outbound demand, particularly in the West, but in general rates have yet to firm up, DAT reported.

The number of posted refrigerated loads declined 1% last week while truck posts gained 4%. The reefer load-to-truck ratio fell 3% to 2.6 to 1 while the average spot rate fell 2 cents to $1.78 per mile.

“Reefer volumes increased across the Western U.S., where produce harvests are under way, yet rates were mixed,” said DAT. “Demand for reefers remains solid in the Southeast where spot truckload freight volumes and prices both rose last week.”

Flatbed load volume was down 9% and truck posts increased 6%. Nationally, the flatbed load-to-truck ratio was at 20.2 to 1, down from 23.5 to 1 the previous week. The average spot flatbed rate fell 1 cent to $1.91 per mile.

The overall decline in rates happened as the national average cost of diesel fuel rose 3 cents to $2.16 per gallon.

The results also follow van spot market volume getting a big boost at the end of March, when shippers were rushing to move inventory before closing the books on the first quarter, according to Matt Sullivan, editor of DAT Carrier News in a post on the company’s blog last Friday.

“The markets have adjusted since then, with rates dipping on most of the top van lanes, but demand for trucks has stayed relatively strong in the Sun Belt. In fact, three of the top four markets for load posts this month are in the Southeast,” he said.

Canada Sees Rare Month-Over-Month Improvement

Meantime, a separate report about the spot freight market north of the border in the first quarter of the year shows it’s building some steam, according to TransCore’s Canadian Freight Index.

TransCore Link Logistics volumes for Canadian and cross-border loads gained traction in March. Compared to February, volumes spiked 17%, a refreshing sign for carriers using the Loadlink load board who witnessed the first month-over-month increase of this size in more than two years, according to the company. However, year-over-year volumes fell 17% compared to 2015 peak volumes that were set in March of last year.

“The first quarter of 2016 ended strong with load volumes increasing for three consecutive months,” the company said. “This trend of greater than two sequential increases month-over-month has not been seen for more than 24 months. Compared to the fourth quarter of 2015, volumes increased 14% for quarter one of 2016, and was down 22% compared to the same period last year.”

Intra-Canada load volumes represented 27% of the total volumes and were similar to last year’s level, down only 1%.

Cross-border loads averaged 69% of the total data submitted by Loadlink’s Canadian-based customers. Loads leaving Canada were lower by 14% and loads coming into Canada decreased 26% year-over-year.

Posted equipment increased 5% month-over-month and these postings were above February 2015 totals by 23%. The equipment-to-load ratio decreased to 3.05 to 1 from 3.42 to 1 in February. Year-over-year, this ratio increased from 1.95 to 1 in March 2015, representing a 56% change.

TransCore’s Canadian Freight Index measures the movement of freight and equipment from roughly 5,500 of Canada’s trucking companies and freight brokers, and includes all domestic, cross-border and interstate data submitted by Loadlink’s customers.

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