Spot rates droop to start 2021 as recovery momentum stalls

Monthly spot market paid rates graph for January 2019 through January 2021Monthly rates data provided by Truckstop.com.

The momentum that buoyed spot market rates since June appears to have stalled in the first month of 2021, with the economic recovery slowing and seasonal trends re-emerging in the freight market in what's a typically slower month most other years. All three major truckload sectors -- flatbed, dry van and refrigerated -- in January posted month-to-month declines, according to monthly rates averages provided by Truckstop.com. 

Those were the first monthly dips for flatbed and dry van, which both posted seven consecutive months of growth, from June to December. Refrigerated spot rates in January dipped for the second straight month, following seven months of upward momentum from May to November. Despite January's dips, monthly rates averages are still historically high.

The declines for flatbed and reefer rates were more muted than dry van, whose national average per-mile rate fell 9 cents from December, to $2.55 a mile in January (these averages are "all in," with fuel costs reflected in the rate). That's still 45 cents higher than the same month in 2020 and 29 cents higher than the same month in 2019. Likewise, it's 71 cents higher than the segment's low last May. 

Reefer's national average fell 3 cents in January, to $2.65 a mile. That's 29 cents stronger than January 2020 and 12 cents stronger than January 2019. Reefer's January average was 53 cents higher than April 202's most recent low point. 

Lastly, flatbed's average per-mile rate dipped 2 cents in January, to $2.64 a mile. That's 24 cents stronger than January 2020 and 26 higher than January 2019. It's also 43 cents higher than the segment's recent low in April 2020. 

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