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Construction, Industrials Push Flatbed Demand to June 2018 Levels

| April 2, 2021

DAT spot truckload pricing trends, week ending March 28, 2021

Construction, industrials push flatbed demand to June 2018 levels

Shippers in construction, manufacturing and other industrial markets pushed demand for flatbed truckload services to its highest point in nearly three years, said DAT Freight & Analytics, which operates the industry’s largest load board network.

Overall demand for trucks on the spot market continued to level out during the week ending March 28. The total number of van, reefer and flatbed loads posted was up 2.5% while the number of trucks fell 1%. Spot rates remained high but showed little movement compared to the previous week despite the urgency of shippers to move freight before the close the quarter.

National Average Spot Rates, March

– Van: $2.66 per mile, 24 cents higher than the February average

– Flatbed: $2.75 per mile, 19 cents higher than February

– Reefer: $2.94 per mile, 25 cents higher than February

These are national average spot truckload rates for the month through March 28 and include a calculated fuel surcharge. The national weekly average price of on-highway diesel was unchanged last week at $3.19 a gallon.

Trendlines

Flatbed capacity is tight: Flatbed capacity is tight as drivers shift toward the higher pay, better per-mile rates and comparatively lower physical demands of hauling van and refrigerated freight. The national average flatbed load-to-truck ratio was 87.8 last week, meaning there were nearly 88 loads on the DAT network for every available truck, the highest ratio since June 2018. With produce season around the corner, expect flatbed capacity to become even more scarce. Last week the average spot rate increased on 40 of DAT’s top 78 flatbed lanes by volume, and the number of loads moved on those lanes was up 4.8% compared to the previous week.

Flatbed lanes to watch: The country’s high-volume flatbed lane last week was Houston to Fort Worth, Texas, averaging $2.80 a mile, up 3 cents week over week. The return paid $2.44 a mile. The number of loads moved from Lakeland, Florida, to Miami was down 16.8% last week compared to the first week of March, but the average rate was 5 cents higher at $3.17. The lane with the biggest average price jump was Roanoke, Va., to Harrisburg, Pa., at $4.11 a mile, up from $3.73. Volumes were low, however.

Van volumes rise at the end of Q1: Typical for the end of a quarter, spot van freight volumes increased last week. The number of loads moved on DAT’s top 100 van lanes was up 6% but the rate was lower on 47 of those lanes and neutral on 34, continuing a pattern of softer pricing. The national average van load-to-truck ratio increased slightly from 4.8 to 5.1.

Van lanes to watch: The Port of Los Angeles is urging shippers to focus on shorter dwell times after processing almost 800,000 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in February, a 47% gain compared to February 2020 and the seventh straight month of year-over-year increases. The average dwell time is between four and five days. Los Angeles outbound spot van rates averaged $3.24 a mile last week, down 2 cents on a 7.2% surge in the number of available loads. Los Angeles to Stockton dipped 3 cents to $3.57 a mile last week—the return paid $1.84.

Little change in reefer demand: The number of loads moved on DAT’s top 72 reefer lanes by volume rose 4.4% compared to the previous week, with the average rate higher on 27 of those lanes, neutral on 13, and lower on 32. Overall, the number of reefer loads and trucks posted was virtually unchanged from the previous week.

Reefer lanes to watch: Spot reefer rates from McAllen, Texas, averaged $2.89 a mile, up 11 cents versus the previous week. Key lanes to watch include McAllen to Elizabeth, N.J., at $3.08 per mile, up 21 cents week over week; McAllen to Atlanta up 17 cents to $3.24 a mile; and McAllen to Dallas 9 cents higher at $3.13.

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