DAT Truckload Volume Index: Spot Market Plunges, Shows Signs of Bottoming Out in April

PORTLAND, Ore.,— Truckload freight volumes plummeted in April and appeared to bottom out, with much of the economy still shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, said DAT Solutions, which operates the industry’s largest online marketplace for spot truckload freight.

The DAT Truckload Volume Index, a measure of dry van, refrigerated (“reefer”) and flatbed loads moved by truckload carriers, fell 19 percent from March and 8 percent from April 2019.

“With so many businesses closed or operating at low capacity, truckload shipments have plunged, which put spot rates in dangerously low territory for owner-operators and small carriers,” said Ken Adamo, Chief of Analytics at DAT. “Some drivers parked their trucks to wait for better business conditions, but there’s still lots of available capacity as a result of the low volumes, which has kept rates down.”

The April load-to-truck ratio for vans was 1.0 nationally, the lowest since February 2016. It was less than 1.0 for three weeks, meaning there were more trucks than freight posted on the DAT network. The spot van rates averaged $1.63 per mile nationally, down 23 cents compared to March and 17 cents versus April 2019.

Spot reefer volumes were weak but ended April on an upward trend, as fruit and vegetable harvests get under way. The reefer load-to-truck ratio was 1.7 compared to 5.6 loads per truck in March, matching at all-time low in April 2017. The national average reefer spot rate was $1.92 per mile, down 25 cents compared to March and 23 cents lower year over year.

Spot market van volumes fell 5 percent in April compared to March, and at $1.63 per mile, the national average van spot rate was down 23 cents from the previous month.

A drastic reduction in manufacturing, oilfield activity and construction contributed to a deep decrease in the national load-to-truck ratio for flatbeds, down from 21.8 in March to just 5.3 last month, an all-time low. The national average flatbed spot rate was $1.93 per mile, 26 cents less than March and the lowest since January 2017.

DAT Freight Outlook

Forecasts indicate that April was the bottom for the spot market. Ratecast and Market Conditions Index – predictive metrics from DAT iQ – anticipate higher prices and volumes, as states relax their stay-at-home orders, produce season begins, and port markets like Los Angeles, Houston, Savannah, Ga. and Elizabeth, N.J., see more traffic.

“Some drivers will not be able to sustain operations very long at these levels,” Adamo said. “Spring produce shipping should offer some relief and put some needed upward pressure on prices in May.”

Please visit dat.com/covid-19 for regular updates on the freight market and DAT’s most recent freight forecasts.

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.