Spot market: After hitting bottom a year ago, rates regain the top – flatbed, reefer at $3-plus

Spot truckload rates remained near all-time highs during the week ending May 3, one year after bottoming out as U.S. economies faltered near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, said DAT Freight and Analytics, operator of the DAT network of load boards and DAT iQ data service. The 7-day average line-haul rate (minus fuel) for dry vans was $2.27/ mile last week, 95 cents higher than the same period a year ago. Spot reefer freight averaged $2.61/mile, up 94 cents compared to the same week a year ago. The average flatbed rate was $2.62 per mile, a 93-cent increase year over year and 30 cents higher than the same period in 2018, when flatbeds rates were at their previous peaks.

Accounting for fuel, the national average spot van rate was $2.68/mile during the first three days of May. Reefers fetched an average $3.10/mile, and the flatbed rate was $3.02.

DAT flatbed graphThere were more than 102 flatbed loads for every available truck on DAT load boards the first few days of the month. Flatbed load post volume on the network increased 3% week over week while the number of trucks posted available fell 7%. The flatbed load-to-truck ratio topped 100 for the first time this year to reach 102.7. That's more than four times higher than the same week last year, and 21% higher than the highest level reached in 2018, when similar high-demand dynamics were at play.

Flatbed rates rose in the last week, despite lower volume. In the 10 largest flatbed markets, the rate increased by 18 cents/mile on average compared to the previous week despite a 7% decline in posted loads. In Houston, flatbed volume was down 5% week over week yet the average outbound spot line-haul rate increased 17 cents to $2.70/mile. 

Dry van volume increased 5%. The number of van loads on the DAT network increased 5% last week as shippers cleared their docks of month's-end freight. Truck posts dropped by the same amount, leaving the van load-to-truck ratio largely unchanged at 4.9. The average line-haul rate (minus a calculated fuel surcharge) for dry van freight was $2.27/mile last week, up 3 cents compared to the previous week.

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Van rates declined in large markets. At $2.45/mile, the average all-in spot rate in the 10 largest van markets fell 1 cent, though the number of available posted loads was up 2%. Atlanta was the top market for available van loads, as volume increased 9% compared to the previous week.

Reefer load posts increase 11%. After falling for the previous three weeks, the national average reefer load-to-truck ratio increased to 10.7 loads per truck. The number of available reefer loads was up 11% last week and capacity tightened with 6% fewer trucks posted, possibly indicating further rates growth.

Mother’s Day shipments bloom. The National Retail Federation said U.S. consumers plan to spend an average of $220 on gifts and other items for the May 9 holiday, for a total of $28  billion. Mother’s Day spending equates to around 150,000 truckloads, using $12,000 per ton as a rough guide.

In the two weeks leading up to May 9, roughly 70 truckloads per day head north from Miami, where 80% of all flora volume is handled by just three carriers. Last week outbound reefer volume from Miami was up 31%. On the heaviest lanes, including New York City, three-day spot line-haul rates averaged around $3.70/mile last week; Miami to Chicago averaged $2.74/mile; Miami to Atlanta averaged $2.77/mile; and Miami to Los Angeles averaged $1.86/ mile excluding fuel.