DAT Freight Index: Spot Market Truckload Demand Outpaces Capacity in December

PORTLAND, Ore. — December capped a banner year for spot market demand. The monthly national averages for both dry and refrigerated (“reefer”) van rates were the highest of 2017, while the national average flatbed rate matched its yearly peak. The availability of truckload freight in December – bolstered by retail shipments, demand for fresh and frozen foods, and e-commerce fulfillment – was 25 percent higher than in December of 2016, as measured by the DAT North American Freight Index.

The Index, a sensitive indicator of demand for transportation services, is published monthly by DAT Solutions, which operates North America’s largest digital truckload freight marketplace.

Overall freight volume fell 3 percent when compared to an exceptionally strong November, but other capacity constraints such as inclement weather in several parts of the country, plus the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate – which went into effect on Dec. 18 – meant that shippers and freight brokers paid premiums for available trucks.

Van rates averaged $2.11 nationally, up 4 cents compared to November. That’s the highest monthly average since DAT first started tracking freight rates in DAT RateView™ in 2010.

Van volumes rose 12 percent month-over-month in December, while truck posts decreased 14 percent. That resulted in a load-to-truck ratio of 9 – also the highest monthly average ever recorded in DAT Trendlines. The load-to-truck ratio measures the number of available loads for each truck posted on the DAT Network of load boards, and a change in the ratio often signals impending changes in rates.

Late fall harvests also pushed the reefer load-to-truck ratio up 18 percent to 14.1, its highest point since March of 2014. The average reefer rate for December was $2.46 per mile, which was 3 cents higher than the November average and another all-time high.

Flatbed trends were a little less dramatic. Volumes increased 2 percent when compared to November, while the national average rate remained at $2.33 per mile for the third month in a row.

Established in 1978, DAT operates a network of load boards serving intermediaries and carriers across North America. For more than a decade DAT has published its Freight Index, which is representative of the dynamic spot market.

Referenced rates are the averages, by equipment type, based on $33 billion of actual transactions between freight brokers and carriers, as recorded in DAT RateView. Reference rates per mile include fuel surcharges, but not accessorials or other fees. Beginning in January 2015, the DAT Freight Index was rebased so that 100 on the Index represents the average monthly volume in the year 2000. Additional trends and analysis are available at DAT Trendlines.