Late Summer Freight Signals Retail Strength

Labor Day weekend is right around the corner. I haven’t been to school in a while, and I don’t have kids at home, but it still surprises me when the summer flies by so quickly.

Just like kids and families across the country, freight transportation is also in a transitional season right now. While the Southeast region typically dominates the freight scene from April through June or even July, the focus moves northward as summer turns to fall.

Demand in the Sun Belt markets is still intense for flatbeds, but freight for vans and reefers is increasingly generated in the Midwest and Northeast by this time of year. For a vans in particular, freight volume and rates are unusually high in a few key markets. These trends indicate a strong retail season ahead in Q4.

Here is a snapshot of the hot markets and regional trends for the second half of August:


Cleveland, Grand Rapids, Green Bay and Philadelphia were hot for vans last week, with Philly adding 5.6% to outbound rates over the past month, now averaging $1.86 per mile. Outbound rates rose out of Columbus, as well, to an average of $2.25 per mile including fuel. These markets are home to a mix of manufacturing and distribution facilities, signaling a build-up of retail inventories.

At the same time, we have seen rates and freight availability cooling steadily in Southeastern hubs, including Atlanta, where rates have declined 11% in the past 30 days, to an average of $2.06 per mile. Truckload rates are also trending down from Memphis (-5.9%, to $2.29) and Charlotte (-6.5%, to $2.35.)


Rates have been stable for flatbeds since June, but the national average rate is starting to trend up now, despite a decline in the fuel surcharge. Flatbed freight has been booming in Memphis, where the DAT Load Boards recorded 270 loads per truck on Monday, and surrounding markets, where load-to-truck ratios are in the triple digits from Cape Girardeau (182) to Little Rock (577.) If you have a flatbed, you should be able to make some good money right now. (Please comment below, to let us know what you’re hauling!)


The drought in California has suppressed reefer freight availability in the central valley, which ordinarily drives big rate changes. In an interesting twist, volume spiked last week in both directions between L.A. and Sacramento, with vegetables likely heading north and fruit coming back.

Trends in the rest of the country are normal for the season, with apples, other tree fruit, as well as cabbages and mixed vegetables rolling out of eastern Washington State, the upper Midwest and upstate New York. Meat and dairy products are filling trucks from Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas, bound for the large population centers where those kids and their parents are reluctantly preparing for the new school year. We are also seeing big spikes in volume on the lanes from Miami to Baltimore and Miami to Elizabeth, in alternating weeks, likely due to produce imports from South America, offloaded in Miami.

More detail can be found in weekly updates on DAT Trendlines, but if you really want to know what carriers are being paid in your lanes right now, you need DAT RateView. Call 800.551.8847 to schedule a demo, or fill out this form and a representative will call you.