DAT Truckload Volume Index: December Solidifies Q4 as Highest Spot Volume Quarter in History

PORTLAND, Ore.,— Spot truckload freight volume in December was the third-highest monthly total ever and solidified Q4 2020 as the highest-volume quarter in history, according to DAT Freight & Analytics – operators of the industry’s largest online marketplace for spot truckload freight.

Freight volume in December was surpassed only by September and October 2020.

The DAT Truckload Volume Index, a measure of dry van, refrigerated (“reefer”) and flatbed loads moved by truckload carriers, increased 2.5 percent in December from the previous month and 17 percent year over year.

The national average spot van rate hit an all-time high in December and the flatbed rate was the highest in more than two years.

“We’ve never seen a quarter like this, since starting to track the Truckload Volume Index. Record rates combined with record volumes, and national average spot market prices eclipsed contract rates for the fifth straight month,” said Ken Adamo, Chief of Analytics at DAT. “I feel like a broken record talking about all these records.”

As is typical for December, capacity tightened ahead of the holidays as shippers rushed to move last-minute loads and carriers worked to route drivers home for Christmas. Nationally, the van load-to-truck ratio averaged 4.8 in December, up from 4.5 the previous month. A ratio of 4.8 means there were 4.8 available loads for every available truck on the DAT network. The van ratio was 6.7 percent higher in December compared to November and 45 percent higher than the ratio in December 2019.

Average spot line-haul rate for vans still exceed contract, steady at all-time high

The spot van rate averaged $2.47 per mile nationally in December, up 2 cents compared to November and 53 cents higher compared to December 2019. At $2.25 per mile, the average line-haul van rate (the total spot rate minus fuel surcharges) stayed steady with November’s  record high.

Spot reefer volumes fell 3.2 percent month over month. The national average reefer load-to-truck ratio fell to 8.5 in December, still five times higher than April’s record low of 1.7 loads per truck. The national average spot reefer rate was $2.68 per mile, down 1 cent compared to November and 38 cents higher year over year.

The national flatbed load-to-truck ratio averaged 40.2 in December, just shy of its two-year high of 40.3 in September. December flatbed volumes were up 2.5 percent compared to November and up 3.8 percent year over year. The national average spot flatbed rate was $2.49 per mile, 5 cents higher than November and 33 cents higher than December 2019.

DAT Freight Outlook

  • Despite having a relatively narrow impact on the supply chain industry as a whole, distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines will have much broader implications for the global economy and the macroeconomic forces which drive supply and demand. Shippers, brokers and carriers are planning for a post-vaccine surge in economic activity, which is expected to be unevenly distributed across dining, travel and manufacturing.
  • Another factor that will have a significant impact on freight volumes include additional economic stimulus out of Washington D.C., which is more likely now that the Democrats control the White House and both branches of Congress.
  • West Coast ports are likely to continue experiencing traffic jams of cargo ships trying to offload goods from southeast Asia. Chinese New Year, which falls on February 12, 2021, and typically lowers outbound cargo from Asia, may provide relief as manufacturing facilities shut down to observe the holiday.
  • According to DAT’s most recent Pulse Signal Report, there may be a restocking surge of durable goods in Q1 but consumer spending is likely to shift toward services that have been unavailable due to pandemic-related closures.
  • A decrease in freight volume may not be sufficient to ease the shortage of qualified truck drivers. Truck fleets face competition from other industries, COVID-related restrictions have slowed their ability to hire and train drivers and the federal Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse shows that more than 41,000 drivers are prohibited from returning to duty due to drug or alcohol program violations.

About the DAT Truckload Volume Index

The DAT Truckload Volume Index reflects the change in the number of loads with a pickup date during that month; the actual index number is normalized each month to accommodate any new data sources without distortion. Baseline of 100 equals the number of loads moved in January 2015, as recorded in DAT RateView, a database of rates paid on an average of 3 million loads per month. DAT national average spot rates are derived from RateView and include only over-the-road lanes with lengths of haul of 250 miles or more. Spot rates represent the payments made to carriers by freight brokers, third-party logistics providers and other transportation buyers.