PORTLAND, Ore. — Spot market truckload rates got a hot start in January, but quickly chilled once the seasonal lull took hold. Prices for dry van and refrigerated (“reefer”) shipments fell compared to December 2019, but volumes actually increased, according to the DAT Truckload Volume Index. Flatbed rates and volume were both up slightly in January.
Pent-up demand after the busy holiday season kept prices high in the first half of the month, but as more trucks became available in the second half, the extra competition for freight drove rates down quickly.
“We know a lot of carriers struggle during the winter months, but better days are coming soon,” said Ken Adamo, Chief of Analytics at DAT Solutions. “Our analysis predicts that dry van spot rates will rise as much as 3 to 5 percent by the end of Q1, and 6 to 10 percent by the end of Q2, although the trajectory may not be constant.”
While the drastic mid-month swing might have been unusual, the overall trend for the month was not. Higher volumes are common for January, but so are lower rates. Spot rates have declined in January for all but one of the past 10 years.
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Dry van rates dropped 7 cents per mile in January, with a national average of $1.70 including the fuel surcharge. Compared to the strong pricing in January 2019, the national rate fell 25 cents. Reefer rates lost 6 cents at $2.24 per mile, while flatbed rates gained a penny, averaging $2.17 per mile in January. Compared to January 2019, the national reefer rate was down 6 cents, while the national flatbed rate declined 17 cents.
Van volume gained 6 percent month over month. Reefer load counts added 4 percent, and flatbed volume surged 17 percent, rebounding from a slow December. Compared to January 2019, van volume gained 10 percent, reefers added 9 percent and flatbed volumes edged up 1 percent.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen positive year-over-year comparisons for truckload rates,” explained Adamo. “Our rate forecasting models show that this will change in the spring, and we will start seeing year-over-year increases for the first time since September 2018.”
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 by freight brokers and 3PL to the carriers.