February has been a strong month for flatbed freight. That's not something you hear all that often, but the national average flatbed rate has increased each week this month, while rates trended in the opposite direction for vans and reefers.
February is usually the slowest month of the year for spot freight, and declines in reefer rates have been sharper than in the van segment. But then again, reefer rates also started from a much higher point, so they had further to fall.
The national average van rate has fallen for six straight weeks now, but that’s pretty typical for mid-February. What’s less typical is the fact that the national average is still higher than it was at any point in 2017.
Flatbed trends have been mostly neutral overall so far in February. There are signs of spring, with higher volumes in many markets over the course of the past three weeks. That’s been offset by a slump in volumes out of Houston, though. The price for oil has gone from above $65 to below $60 per barrel, which could account for the decrease in demand in that market.
Spot market rates continue to decline seasonally, as volumes for February are slightly off compared to 2017. That loss can be attributed to completion from the railroads, as overall shipments are up slightly year over year, but more shippers have shifted freight over to rail.
Van rates continued to moderate last week, and van load posts declined as we moved into February. Prices are still above the peak for 2017, but the extreme highs in the van segment are declining as we transition into what is usually the slowest month on the spot market.
The energy sector heated up in January, which contributed to higher flatbed load counts for the month. Bad weather in some parts of the country also disrupted construction, though, which led to some pretty uneven changes in flatbed lane rates in January.
Van rates and load counts have been trending down for three weeks, and the national average van rate slipped to $2.26 per mile last week. Those are all normal January trends. That’s still a really high national average, though.
Spot market demand tends to slow down in the middle of January, so it wasn’t surprising that load posts on DAT load boards edged down 4% last week. It was actually the first decline since mid-November that wasn’t related to a shorter work week because of a holiday.