Have dry van freight rates hit bottom already?

Van rates could be getting ready for a rebound, even though spring is still six weeks away. Punxsatawney Phil did come out on Groundhog Day with a forecast for an early spring, so let's hope the big rodent got it right this time.

Depending on where you find your next load, the glass may be half empty or half full. Rates are unchanged or rising on half of the highest-volume van lanes, which may signal an early spring rebound. Unfortunately, most of the lane rates that rose were pretty low to begin with.  

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Hot Market Maps depict the outbound load-to-truck ratio from 135 U.S. freight markets. A change in the ratio typically signals a change in freight rates. Find Hot Market Maps in the DAT Power load board and in DAT RateView.

First, the good news. More lane rates rose last week than the week before, and a few had significant increases. The bad news is that most of the return trip rates fell, as did the roundtrip averages.

  • Atlanta to Chicago rates rose 5¢ to $1.28 per mile, but Chicago to Atlanta lost 11¢ to $2.08
  • Houston to Los Angeles added 5¢ to $1.34 per loaded mile; L.A. to Houston dropped 12¢ to $1.57. (On second thought, just skip this lane altogether.)
  • Denver to Dallas edged up 3¢ to $1.06 per mile, and Dallas to Denver only declined 1¢to $1.97, so it's a net win but still not a great roundtrip average.
  • Memphis to Chicago hit $1.81 per loaded mile, up 4¢ from the prior week. Chicago to Memphis also paid $1.81 last week, down 18¢. 
  • Chicago to Denver added 4¢ to $2.46 last week, but it's drifting back down now. Denver to Chicago lost a penny to $1.08. That's a roundtrip average of $1.77. 

Admittedly, there's a fair amount of evidence to support the glass-half-empty viewpoint.

  • Stockton, CA, to Salt Lake City plummeted 15¢ t $2.17 per mile, which wouldn't be so bad except Salt Lake City to Stockton paid only $1.56 last week, down 4¢, and there weren't a lot of loads.
  • Allentown, PA, to Richmond, VA, dropped 14¢ to $2.31, and Richmond to Allentown dropped to $2.69 from $2.88 at the end of January, a 19¢ loss. Still not bad, but you may have some deadhead miles. 
  • Buffalo to Columbus was 11¢ lower last week, at $1.84, and Columbus to Buffalo was off by only a penny, to $2.95. Good rates, but not a lot of loads. At least they're not expecting snow this week.
  • Los Angeles to Dallas, at $1.58 per mile, lost 9¢ last week, and Dallas to L.A. held steady at $1.19. Not a lot of money, to be sure.

I'm starting to think that those glass-half-empty people have a strong argument. Hang in there, optimists. Spring is coming!

The right load at the right time
at the right price

Peggy Dorf

Peggy joined DAT in 2008 as a writer and market analyst. She was instrumental in developing DAT Trendlines, and she writes extensively about the impact of economic trends on companies and individuals in transportation and logistics. Peggy is a Certified Transportation Broker with decades of experience in technology marketing and an MBA from the Wharton School.