At the beginning of the year, DAT Pricing Analyst Mark Montague declared that the freight recession was over. A month later, other analysts from around the industry started to come to the same conclusion.
Since then, we've been in the middle of what's traditionally been the slow season for freight. The steady decline in van and reefer rates over the course of several weeks left a lot of people wondering whether or not the freight recession really was over.
But compared to February of last year, there's been more than a 100% increase in freight on the spot market this month. A number of factors have led to loose capacity, though, which has kept rates from going up. For one, contract freight has been slow so far this year, especially in the Southwest, so more and more contract carriers have had trucks available on the spot market. Low reefer demand has also put more refrigerated carriers in competition for van loads, since some dry van freight can be hauled in a reefer trailer. That's kept rates in check for both trailer types.
We could be looking at a "darkest before the dawn" scenario right now though, and if you squint you can see a little light out there on the horizon. The national average van rate held steady last week after several weeks of steady decline, and volumes continue to improve on the top 100 van lanes. The growing number of van loads will soon put pressure on rates to go up.
Load-to-truck ratios are highest for vans in the darker red areas on the Hot States Map, above.
Van demand has been growing in the South, and load counts were up in Atlanta and Memphis. Load availability was also up in Chicago, but the number of available trucks kept it from turning the state of Illinois dark red in the Hot Market Map above. Still, we could start to see prices rise in these markets soon.
All rates below include fuel surcharges and are based on actual transactions between brokers and carriers.
Rates didn’t move a whole lot last week. Most changes in price were relatively slight, so no major van market posted any significant increases last week.
The only lane on the top 100 that was up more than 7¢ was Denver to Stockton, though that wasn’t entirely good news. It added 11¢, but the headhaul direction from Stockton fell 16¢ to $1.69/mile.
- Volumes dropped off in Allentown, PA, after getting a big boost the week before
- There were more loads available out of Chicago, but not on the lane to Buffalo. The average rate on that lane tumbled 31¢ to $2.02/mile
- Seattle to Eugene, OR also slipped 11¢ to $2.17/mile
Load-to-truck ratios are highest for flatbeds in the darker green areas on the Hot States Map, above.
While vans and reefers have been in a seasonal lull, flatbed rates and volumes have been climbing steadily about a month ahead of schedule. Higher volumes in Southeast and Northeast have been driving the results, but higher volumes on a couple lanes associated with oil production have also been key: Pittsburgh to Houston, and Houston to El Paso, which is related to the drilling activity in the Permian Basin.
Rates have surged up 28% in Pittsburgh in the past month. The two rising markets in the south were Tampa and Birmingham, while Dallas and Harrisburg, PA have also been strong as of late.
A lot of lanes have been up-and-down, depending on weather changes:
- The lane from Rock Island, IL, to Minneapolis went from 70 degrees to snow storms late in the week -- on average, rates rose 39¢ to $2.55/mile
- Cleveland to Harrisburg jumped up 35¢ to $3.09/mile, which is unusually high for this lane this time of year.
- Raleigh to Baltimore also paid 32¢ better on average at $2.61/mile, another rate that’s more typical for summer
Outbound rates trended down last month in Savannah, Jacksonville and Los Angeles. All three are port cities, so lower outbound rates could be a sign of stronger exports than imports.
On a lane-by-lane basis, flatbed patterns have been changing pretty dramatically from one week to the next. Last week, the four biggest losers were out of Savannah and Cleveland:
- Savannah to the South Carolina Inland Port in Greer, SC, (part of the Greenville market), was down 45¢ to $2.32/mile
- Savannah to Charlotte also lost 44¢ at $2.41/mile
- Out of Cleveland, the lane to Roanoke, VA, tumbled 57¢ last week to $2.57/mile
- Cleveland to Houston also dropped 31¢ to $1.62/mile