Where Did the Loads Go?

Poof! All gone!

Okay, not ALL. But van load availability returned to mid-November levels last week, as a 25% decline in load posts reversed a big, post-Thanksgiving gain in spot market freight. The national average load-to-truck ratio lost 38%, plummeting from 2.8 to 1.7 loads per truck.

Demand remained strong during the week in a handful of Hot Markets, including: Spokane, WA; Medford, OR; Fargo, ND; Sioux Falls, SD; Des Moines, IA; Rock Island, IL; Hutchinson, KS; Tulsa, OK; Little Rock, AR; Memphis, TN; and Decatur, AL. A shortage of trucks yielded a high load-to-truck ratio that also turned the map red in Wyoming and Maine, despite low freight volume, and a brief surge in New Mexico was not generating any more new loads this week.

Reefer freight was also quiet last week, as fresh food shipments hit a brief lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Big freight-producing states are affected, including California, Texas and Florida. There are a few bright spots on the map, however. Chicago has the most load posts, but there are plenty of trucks too, so the load-to-truck ratio is edging up from 1.1 to 1.3, still well below the national average. Snow is in the forecast for the coming week, so reefers may be in high demand to protect chemicals and other temperature-sensitive cargo from freezing. Commodities include frozen and fresh packaged foods. Little Rock has strong volume, with a ratio of 19.3 loads per truck. This is almost certainly due to poultry products.

Need flatbed loads? Try Alabama. Lumber and port traffic on the Gulf of Mexico are driving flatbed demand in Mobile, which has strong load volume and a load-to-truck ratio of 25.0. Montgomery is up there, too, with a ratio of 33.0 loads posted for every truck post. Pensacola, FL is a third option. Obviously, when demand is high, flatbed carriers are not going to be in a big rush to post a truck, because their phones would start ringing non-stop. Instead, the carriers prefer to search for loads themselves, and the are very selective about making calls.

What’s Next for Truckload Freight?

Will there be another surge in freight, as the final online orders all hit right before Christmas? I’m guessing yes, for two reasons. First, the economy still appears to be strong enough to produce some surges in spot market demand, even if those are short-lived. Second, the increased popularity of online shopping has extended the Christmas retail season, and last-minute parcel delivery indicates additional truckload freight moving to distribution centers right up until Christmas Day. I haven’t done my Christmas shopping yet, and I know I’m not the only one.

Additional freight may trickle in after Christmas, too. The increased popularity of gift cards makes it imperative for most retailers to re-stock in January, when those cards are most often redeemed.