Though the weather turns colder, spot market temps turn up for vans, flatbeds

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Updated Dec 19, 2016

Van load volume is still looking very strong, as you can see from DAT’s Hot Market Map (below) from yesterday, December 15. Rates have reflected the particularly extraordinary demand for this time of year. (The map, unlike the usual state-by-state maps in the weekly update, divides North America into typically urban regions served by commercial trucking — darker-shaded areas represent greater demand for trucks.)

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Winter weather in the Midwest and Northeast could push rates even higher the week of Christmas, since parcel freight will be moving until Saturday the 24th, and those lanes will be slower and more difficult — carriers will naturally want to get paid for that extra time and risk.

Top markets: Traditional distribution hubs like Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta lost some momentum last week, with the focus shifting to e-commerce hubs like Memphis, Seattle and Denver. Those markets have had a strong demand for trucks after Thanksgiving, and that pressure could continue through Christmas. Some e-commerce retailers are consolidating parcel freight into full truckloads, which they move from one regional distribution center to another before putting the parcels on a local delivery truck.

Rising lanes: Denver’s outbound rates responded in a big way to the higher volume of loads, but Denver rates still trail all other markets. That’s nothing new. Seattle is also a “backhaul” market for the most part, but outbound rates there last week were actually higher on average than rates out of Texas.

The two biggest price jumps on the top 100 van lanes were out of Denver:

  • Denver to Stockton, Calif., was up 18 cents to $1.49/mile as an average.
  • Denver to Phoenix rose 13 cents to an average $1.25/mile; that’s low, but it’s still strong compared to what this lane has paid historically.

One traditional retail lane did improve last week, probably also due to e-commerce involvement:

Memphis to Columbus paid 11 cents better at $1.88/mile. Memphis is a huge hub for parcel freight.

Falling lanes: Los Angeles is the biggest van market where outbound rates are lower now than they were a month ago. Most of the price drops weren’t extreme on the rest of the top 100 van lanes, although a few made it into the double digits:

  • Columbus to Allentown came back down 15 cents, but prices are still averaging $2.78/mile.
  • Portland to Stockton slowed, and prices fell 18 cents to $1.71/mile.
  • Memphis to Atlanta was down 14 cents to $2.10/mile.

Flatbeds

Flats are holding up extremely well for this time of year, too, shown in the spot market demand map snapshot pulled December 13 below:

Volumes were up slightly last week, and the national average flatbed rate is 2 cents higher than it was in November.Volumes were up slightly last week, and the national average flatbed rate is 2 cents higher than it was in November.

All rate averages on the lanes that follow include fuel surcharges and are based on real transactions between carriers and brokers.

Rising lanes: Some markets that slumped last month have been picking up steam so far in December, including Savannah, Ga.

  • Phoenix has seen the biggest spike in outbound rates in the past month, but the average rate is $1.83, still below the national average.
  • Cleveland and Houston have also improved from a month ago.
  • Flatbed loads from Memphis to St. Louis paid an average $2.59/mile last week, a six-week high.
  • After some recent losses, the lane from Fort Worth, Texas, to Mobile, Ala., also recovered to $1.79/mile.
  • Roanoke to Pittsburgh surged up to $2.65/mile, which might tell you that it’s tough to find good loads in Pittsburgh right now…

Falling lanes: … and in fact, flatbed prices out of Pittsburgh have tumbled to $1.68/mile, which is the lowest outbound average for a major flatbed market.

  • The lane from Pittsburgh to Houston was even worse last week — $1.56/mile on average.
  • Birmingham to Raleigh, N.C., also has slipped recently — that lane paid an average $2.15/mile.
  • Phoenix to El Paso has been an up-and-down lane, and lately it’s down, at $1.71/mile.
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