PORTLAND, Ore. —Truckload freight activity declined in April, but the month was still the second busiest month on record for shippers, freight brokers and motor carriers, according to DAT Freight & Analytics.
The DAT Truckload Volume Index (TVI) registered 225 in April, down 5% from the all-time high set in March. The index is an aggregated measure of dry van, refrigerated and flatbed loads moved by truckload carriers. A baseline of 100 reflects freight volume in January 2015.
“It’s not unusual to see a decline from March to April, but truckload freight activity remained at historic levels compared to previous years,” said Ken Adamo, chief of analytics at DAT. “The April TVI was 39% higher than it was in April 2020 and April 2018, and 26% higher than in April 2019, indicating unusually strong demand for truckload capacity last month. Trucking companies are in the driver’s seat with respect to pricing power.”
At $2.59 per mile for April, the national average spot rate for van loads on the DAT One load board network was 8 cents lower than the March average, but was the second-highest monthly average van rate on record. The national average spot reefer rate was $2.93 per mile, 2 cents lower than in March, while the spot flatbed rate averaged $2.96 per mile, 18 cents higher month over month.
Contract rates for truckload services — scheduled and planned transportation where the rate is negotiated well in advance and part of a larger commitment to move goods — were historically high in April. The average contract van rate was $2.66 per mile and increased for the 12th consecutive month. In addition, the average contract rate for refrigerated freight was $2.78 a mile, 15 cents below the average spot reefer rate.
The national average contract rate for flatbed equipment, which is used to haul construction materials, heavy equipment and a variety of other industrial goods, was $2.96 per mile, or $1.03 higher than in April 2020. On the spot market, the flatbed load-to-truck ratio averaged 95.7, meaning there were more than 95 loads posted for every available truck last month.
“There’s a feeling among businesses that they are at their ceiling for the price of logistics,” Adamo said. “Spot and contract rates are high as we enter a period when truckload capacity is only going to tighten, as produce and retail goods move ahead of the July 4 holiday and back-to-school shopping season.”
DAT’s outlook for May 2021:
- Supply chain imbalances due to commodity shortages for manufacturing and the reopening of long-shuttered offices and service businesses have led to increased use of the spot market. In most years, 12% to 15% of truckload freight moves on the spot market; that figure is closer to 25% today.
- During the first week of May, the volume of load posts on DAT One was 36% higher compared to the same period in 2018, when spot truckload freight activity followed a more typical pattern.
- Expect demand for refrigerated trailers to increase as domestic produce harvests expand north beyond the U.S. southern border.
- The national average price of on-highway diesel was $3.13 a gallon in April. Spot rates include a calculated surcharge that fluctuates with the price of fuel, which is expected to rise following the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline.
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