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Spot Reefer Rates Hit 4-Month High as Vans, Flatbeds Slip

May 17, 2017

By Evan Lockridge

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Graphic: DAT
Graphic: DAT

The national average spot rate for refrigerated truckload freight gained 2 cents for the week ending May 13 for $1.99 per mile, the highest weekly average rate in four months, according to new figures released by DAT Solutions and based on its network of load boards.

The national average van rate was down 2 cents at $1.68 per mile, while the average flatbed rate fell 1 cent to $2.08 per mile. All rates include fuel surcharges.

Overall, the number of load posts edged down 2% last week while truck posts were up 2%. That led to lower or flat load-to-truck ratios with vans remaining and 3.3 to 1 while reefers fell 6% after a nice uptick the previous week, hitting 6.1 to 1. Flatbeds declined 6% to 36.9 to 1.

Nationally, the number of available refrigerated loads declined 1% while truck posts increased 5%. On the top 72 lanes for spot reefer freight, 51 lanes had higher rates last week despite uneven production out of Florida, shipping gaps in California, and a drop in volumes in markets near the Mexican border.

According to DAT, some key reefer lanes to watch are:

  • Los Angeles-Denver, $2.84 per mile, up 29 cents
  • Grand Rapids-Cleveland, $3.10 per mile, down 4 cents
  • McAllen-Dallas, $2.54 per mile, up 3 cents
  • Atlanta-Chicago, $1.72 per mile, up 18 cents
  • Elizabeth, New Jersey-Boston, $3.58 per mile, up 23 cents

Miami outbound faded but high demand from Lakeland buoyed rates in Florida. Lakeland-Baltimore surged 40 cents to $2.68 per mile on average. Two reefer markets to watch in California are Fresno, where the average outbound rate jumped 12 cents to $2.14 per mile, and Los Angeles, also up 12 cents, at $2.57 per mile.

Nationally, the number of posted van loads and trucks each increased 1%. No major van markets made big moves, but outbound rates in Houston, $1.76 mile; up 3 cents, and Los Angeles; $2.01 per mile, unchanged, have both improved by 5% over the past month.

The average length of haul in the van market decreased last week, so the larger rate increases were generally on shorter, regional lanes including:

  • Atlanta-Charlotte: $2.40 per mile, up 23 cents
  • Philadelphia-Boston: $3.18 per mile, up 16 cents, though return loads are hard to come by and they generally don't pay well
  • Houston-New Orleans: $2.53 per mile, up 15 cents
  • Memphis-Indianapolis: $1.89 per mile, up 12 cents

The biggest van rate declines last week were on long-haul lanes. Intermodal companies have also been competing for market share lately with aggressive pricing, which has pushed truckload rates lower on longer lanes that compete with rail, according to DAT.

In the flatbed sector load posts declined 3%, while truck posts increased 3%. Despite this the flatbed load to truck ratio continues to increase well beyond levels from the same time in 2016 and 2015.

Among the more notable flatbed rates there is the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania-Baltimore lane at $3.64 per mile; Atlanta-Memphis at $2.66 per mile, and Rock Island, Illinois-Cleveland at $2.55 per mile.

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