Demand remained strong and rates were above the norm, despite a slight seasonal decline during the week ending July 19 compared to the previous seven days, according to the freight matching service provider DAT and its network of load boards.

The national average van rate dipped 3 cents, 1.4%, to $2.10 per mile, including fuel surcharge. Load availability slipped 7.9% while truckload capacity increased 14%. The national van load-to-truck ratio dropped 19% to 2.9 loads per truck. 

The national average reefer rate dropped 4 cents, 1.6%, to $2.40 per mile as pressure on fruit and vegetable deliveries receded after the July 4th holiday. The number of posted refrigerated loads declined 14% as truckload capacity increased 8.8% compared to the previous week. The resulting load-to-truck ratio fell 21% from 10.2 to 8.1 loads per truck.

The national average rate for flatbeds remained unchanged at $2.47 per mile. The number of posted flatbed loads barely changed, losing 0.8% compared to the previous week. Capacity expanded by 11%. The national flatbed load-to-truck ratio remains strong at 35.5 posted loads per truck.

Despite the decline a few factors might push rates to new highs in August or September, according to Mark Montague, DAT analyst, on the company’s Freight Talk blog.

“Manufacturing, construction and imports are all on the rise. Whether you think the economy is weak or strong, there is definitely a significant improvement in sectors of the economy that generate lots of freight, including: manufacturing, construction and imports,” he wrote. “California harvests are reduced, but other regions are over-compensating. Crops are abundant this year, including cherries in Oregon and Washington, vegetables and melons in Florida, tomatoes and peaches in New Jersey.”

Adding to this, he noted capacity constraints aren’t going away anytime soon, with hours of service-related productivity losses not being restored, trucking company failures taking trucks off the road and large fleets not being able to find enough qualified drivers.

Montague also cautioned rates could slump in July, bringing them in line with last year’s level or they could stabilize at their current level and remain there into the fourth quarter.

“I am leaning toward this scenario... Heightened demand in Memphis and Houston is balancing the softer trends in Chicago and Dallas, and the national average could hold steady. We'll know more in a week or two,” he said.