Truckload rates crested the wave last week, as owner-ops ride up-and-down market

Spot truckload rates peaked on March 22 and since then have tumbled as supply chains feel effects of the COVID-19 outbreak.

After building for several weeks, national averages for van and reefer rates crested and then settled down at levels that are more in line with seasonal expectations, said DAT Solutions, operator of the DAT load board network. Given how unsettled business conditions are right now, it’s unclear whether the trend will turn into a sharp downward rate correction, a holding pattern, or a return to the upward trajectory of recent weeks.

National average rates, March (through March 29) 
**Van: $1.87 per mile, up 2 cents from last week and 8 cents higher than the February average
**Reefer: $2.19 per mile, up 3 cents from last week, and up 10 cents compared to February
**Flatbed: $2.19 per mile, down a penny from last week, and up 4 cents compared to February

KEY TRENDS

Van rates peak: Last week, spot van rates were higher on 71 of the top 100 high-volume van lanes on DAT load boards. The national average van line-haul rate increased more than 11% from March 1 ($1.51 per mile) to March 22 ($1.68), and declined during the week to $1.57. All told, that’s a 4% increase in the line-haul rate during March.

REEFER LOAD-TO-TRUCK RATIO AVERAGES | This illustration shows the fall back last week toward a more seasonal level in the demand indicator (load/truck ratio) for refrigerated freight, after a big peak the previous week.REEFER LOAD-TO-TRUCK RATIO AVERAGES | This illustration shows the fall back last week toward a more seasonal level in the demand indicator (load/truck ratio) for refrigerated freight, after a big peak the previous week.

Ratios slip: Slowdowns and business closures have reduced the overall demand for trucks. The national average van load-to-truck ratio was 2.8 last week, down from 3.5 the previous week. This is the first week-over-week decline after eight weeks of gains. As shown in the graph, the reefer load-to-truck ratio fell well more than that.

Seasonal norms: At 2.8, the van load-to-truck ratio is now at February levels. That’s actually an improvement compared to the same period in 2019. Lower van ratios in the coming weeks would be consistent with seasonal norms, while staying ahead of 2019 trends.

A ripe reefer ratio: The national average reefer load-to-truck ratio fell to 4.9 from 7.8 the previous week, a sign that rates will soon soften. At once, only one of the top 72 reefer lanes paid less last week than it did the week before.

Better in the Sun Belt: For now, spot reefer rates are still trending up in California, Texas, and parts of the Southeast. Dallas to Columbus, Ohio, averaged $1.98 per mile, up 15 cents; Stockton, Calif., to Portland, Ore., paid $2.93, up 30 cents; and Miami to Baltimore gained 20 cents to $2.04.

DAT Solutions is providing customers market updates via this special page during the ongoing fallout from the COVID-19 crisis

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