In December 2010, TransCore's market research shows a 55 percent increase in spot market freight availability, compared to December '09. Freight volume for each of the last six months has surpassed the highest level since 2005, a peak year for spot market volume.

On a month-over-month basis, December load availability was stable, with a 0.2 percent increase over November. This indicates an unusually robust load volume for the month of December. While 2009 load volume increased by 11 percent from November to December, a decline is more typical for the season, according to TransCore. From 2001 through 2008, spot freight volume declined between November and December by an average of 19 percent.

The national average line-haul spot market rates for refrigerated ("reefer") trucks softened by $0.05 (3.3%) to $1.47 per mile and flatbed rates dipped by $0.01 in December, month-over-month. A rate decline in those segments is normal for the season.

Van rates remained stable, at a national line haul average of $1.28 per mile. This confirms the relatively high demand for freight transportation in the face of looming capacity shortages, according to TransCore's Truckload Rate Index. Spot market rates are the rates that brokers and 3PLs pay to the carrier.

Looking ahead to February, the best combinations of high freight volumes and favorable inbound-to-outbound load ratios come from Illinois, Georgia, Michigan, Tennessee and Missouri.

Regionally, TransCore Trendlines reports that refrigerated (reefer) carriers serving the Atlanta and Philadelphia markets experienced sharp rate declines on the spot market in the most recent 30-day period, from mid-December through mid-January. Los Angeles rates also declined substantially, due to seasonal trends that were not weather-related. Overall, reefer linehaul rates slipped by 2 percent (approximately $0.03) since mid-December, while fuel surcharges have generally climbed by about $0.02 per mile. The net result was a dip of about a penny in the "all in" rate per mile.

Chicago was the only market to show a slight increase in outbound rates, as carriers demanded more money to go to Dallas and Philadelphia. Rate changes were moderate in other markets, including Atlanta and Dallas.