Truckload Rates Mix it Up, in Transitional Season

Following an extraordinary first quarter, spot market freight is finally reverting to a more typical pattern. National trends are mixed, but we can tease some advance indicators from the details:

VAN - Load volume and rates are declining in the van segment, with a few surprisingly hot markets in the southern half of the country. Memphis is awash in freight, comprised of consumer goods and some steel-related products, yielding a load-to-truck ratio of 6.4. That's high for vans, but it's surpassed by Laredo, a beneficiary of Mexico's expanding economic role in NAFTA as an exporter as well as an importer. Houston is also hot for vans, likely due to energy-related goods that accompany flatbed loads to North Dakota and other new drilling sites. Phoenix has also been strong for van freight this month. Average outbound rates from Chicago lost 6¢ (2.8%) last week, partly due to an 11¢ drop in the lane rate to Denver. Interestingly enough, the return trip added 14¢, and the round-trip average rose 3¢ to a substantial $2.03. Denver is sometimes a tough place to find freight, so carriers will benefit from a TriHaul -- perhaps via Rapid City, SD, where the load-to-truck ratio is 8.6, compared to 0.6 for Denver. Carriers can price out alternative routes, in DAT RateView, using the trip calculator, then find the best-paying loads on DAT Load Boards.

REEFER - Temperature-controlled freight experienced a very brief post-Easter lull, which is now ending, almost before it began. Outbound reefer rates are already rising in Florida and south Texas, signaling a rousing start to the produce season. Rates from Lakeland, FL to Atlanta, a major produce lane, rose 64¢ (20%) in the past four weeks on a concurrent 20% increase in volume. The average on that lane last week was $2.43 per mile last week, including fuel. Rates rose 12% out of Miami, as well, to $2.28 per mile, a welcome indicator for anyone with inbound reefer freight destined for South Florida. The southbound rates are declining, as you might expect, but the availability and rates on outbound freight more than make up the difference. California is already contributing 19% of spot market reefer loads, although peak season in the Golden State is still six to eight weeks away.

FLATBED - Demand and rates are up like a rocket, offering early confirmation of economic recovery. The national average rate for flatbeds spiked to $2.37, including fuel, and load-to-truck ratios are above 100-to-1 in a few key markets. Those "hot markets" include Birmingham, Cleveland, St. Louis, Houston, Shreveport and Savannah. Steel is one of the primary commodities that is boosting flatbed demand. Lumber shipments are not as robust as they were last year, but other cargo types are expanding, and flatbed capacity is tight throughout the U.S.