Spot freight in the last week: Rates dip, but flatbed demand shows off-season promise

After a relatively strong start to the month, national average spot truckload van and reefer rates slipped below December averages during the week ending Jan. 19, said DAT Solutions, which operates the DAT load board network. There was, however, better news for flatbed haulers as the national average spot flatbed rate crept higher on the strength of new oil and gas projects.

January national average spot rates (through Jan. 19)
**Van: $1.91 per mile, 3 cents below the December average
**Reefer: $2.29 per mile, down 1 cent from December
**Flatbed: $2.19 per mile, up 2 cents from December

Trend to watch: The January slump
One of the easiest trends to predict is reduced freight volume in January. Sure enough, the van load-to-truck ratio was 2.1 last week, meaning there were 2.1 loads for every truck posted on the DAT network, down from 3.2 in the previous two weeks. This slowdown is happening later in January than it often does, and prediction models show that freight volumes should pick up a little sooner than expected in March. In short, this lull may not last as long as usual.

For now, van rates are shifting lower. Most of the lanes with better rates last week don’t pay well to begin with, and those increases were offset by poor rates for the return trip. Still, there were lanes where the roundtrip average was priced better for carriers last week compared to the previous week:

**Seattle to Spokane was up 12 cents to $3.29 per mile. Spokane to Seattle lost 4 cents to $2.84, though load availability was low. The roundtrip averaged $3.06.
**Denver to Phoenix was up 4 cents to a still-of-course-very-low $1.34 per mile. Phoenix to Denver paid $2.27, down 10 cents, for a roundtrip average of $1.81. Running between Denver and Albuquerque paid better at an average of $2.06 per loaded mile.
**Dallas to Memphis was up 5 cents to $1.33 per mile. Memphis to Dallas dropped 4 cents to $2.38 for a roundtrip average of $1.86.
**Chicago to Los Angeles rose 5 cents to $1.55 per mile. L.A. to Chicago fell 2 cents to $1.37 for a roundtrip average of $1.46.

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At least, with this last example, there were lots of loads to choose from. …

Market to watch: Texas flatbeds

Flatbed demand and rates are seeing a bit of an off-season surge in various areas.Flatbed demand and rates are seeing a bit of an off-season surge in various areas.

We expect low flatbed rates most every January, when construction is down. So why are rates moving up? After reducing the number of active wells in 2019, oil and gas producers in the U.S. and Canada have added wells this month, and spot pricing is reflecting higher demand to support additional production. Loads are more accessible in Texas, Montana, the Dakotas, and other big oil-and-gas markets. Rates were higher on several lanes from Houston, for example:

**Houston to Fort Worth: $2.51 per mile, up 8 cents. Fort Worth to Houston averaged $2.13 per loaded mile, up 3 cents.
**Houston to Laredo: $2.45 per mile, up 12 cents. Laredo to Houston increased 2 cents to $2.19.
**Houston to Lubbock: $2.48, up 13 cents. The return trip averaged just $1.28, however.

Expect more flatbed activity in the Upper Mountain and Plains states. This week the Trump administration approved a right-of-way grant allowing for the Keystone XL pipeline to be built across 44 miles of federally managed land in Montana. While the project still faces court challenges, flatbeds are being used to stage building materials and supplies at future construction sites.

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