September spot freight up by 69% year-over-year

Looking back at September, we saw a 69% increase in freight availability on the spot market, compared to September 2009. After seven consecutive months of triple-digit comparisons, August and September volume increases might seem anemic. In fact, spot freight achieved the highest level since 2005 for both of those months. Those year-over-year comparisons are less dramatic now because spot freight increased in the second half of 2009 – not because of any new weakness in 2010.

Compared to August, the load volume in September was up by 3.5%. Interestingly, a lot of that incremental volume materialized in the final days of the month, as shippers rushed freight out the door. This kind of acceleration is common at the end of a quarter.

This year has defied all the usual seasonal patterns in spot market freight so far. 2010 started with a strong first quarter and an early peak in April, instead of June. That April surge was followed by four consecutive month-over-month declines. (See graph, below.)

Spot market loads peaked in April 2010 instead of June. Loads appear to be rebounding again, after four consecutive month-over-month declines.

What was that all about? We saw evidence that shippers accelerated freight movements this year, to avoid congestion at West Coast ports. This shift may have been partly responsible for an early peak in trucking freight. You might think that shift was responsible for the uptick in September – sort of an early Christmas. The problem with that theory is that most of the surge was designated for flatbeds. There was almost no change in freight volume for vans and reefers.

For the fourth quarter, we hear predictions about capacity shortages due at least in part to potential changes in hours of service and other truck safety standards that comprise CSA 2010. Drivers, trucks and the carriers themselves may be disqualified from service in greater numbers as the new rules take effect.

Spot market freight availability should continue to increase, as shippers turn to freight brokers – and brokers go to load boards – to find trucks. Spot market rates might increase, after two months of relative stability.

Do you have a prediction of your own? Send your comments to [email protected]. I promise to answer every email personally – so pull out that keyboard and start typing!