DAT Solutions: Flatbed market makes steady gains

Special to Land Line | 4/13/2016

After a flurry of activity to end March, spot truckload freight volume settled back down 1 percent nationally while the number of truck posts jumped 6.2 percent during the week ending April 9, according to DAT Solutions, which operates the OOIDA MembersEdge load board.

A swell of flatbed loads and better rates contrasted with downward trends for van and reefer freight. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers:

The Good
The national average flatbed load-to-truck ratio was 23.5, meaning there were 23.5 available flatbed loads for every truck posted on the DAT load board network last week. The load-to-truck ratio is a real-time indicator of the balance between spot market demand and capacity. Changes in the ratio often signal impending changes in rates.

The flatbed ratio has been climbing steadily all year, from an average of 8.7 in January to 10.4 in February to 17.5 in March, up slightly compared to March 2015 when the ratio was 16.3.

Flatbed rates gained 1 cent to a national average of $1.92 per mile. Hot markets included Jacksonville (up 18 cents to an average of $2.45 a mile), Phoenix (also up 18 cents to $1.75), Reno (a 19-cent gain to $2.26), and Harrisburg, Pa. (31 cents higher at $2.96).

The Bad
On the other hand, van and refrigerated spot truckload rates remain soft. Average rates trended down on 63 of the top 100 van lanes – not a great week, although most adjustments were small. Van load posts fell 13 percent and truck posts increased 7 percent; the van load-to-truck ratio fell slightly to 1.6.

The national average van rate dropped 4 cents compared with the previous week to $1.53. Looking at the past 30 days, average van rates rose in three markets: Atlanta, Houston, and Stockton, Calif.

Reefer demand is undergoing a regional shift as produce season winds down in Florida. Texas was home to four of the top eight markets for reefer load posts on MembersEdge, and harvests in the Coachella and Imperial Valleys of California have produced stronger demand and better outbound rates in markets like Ontario.

The reefer load-to-truck ratio fell to 2.6 last week and the national average spot reefer rate dropped 2 cents to $1.80 per mile.

The Takeaway
In a reefer rate environment like this, use your load board to maximize your revenue. Our reefer trihaul of the Week is Chicago-Atlanta, a 1,432-mile roundtrip that would pay an average of $1.68 a mile: $2,406 total or roughly $800 a day.

So look for a load from Atlanta to another market with lots of reefer loads to Chicago, like Charleston, W.V., (with a 6.8 load-to-truck ratio, there’s a shortage of trucks there). Take the trihaul from Chicago to Atlanta to Charleston and back to Chicago, and you’ll end up with $3,640 instead of $2,406.

Since it can be hard to find a load from Charleston to Chicago, look at different combinations and line up your lane and load up before you leave Atlanta.

Look for the latest load availability and rate information at OOIDA’s MyMembersEdge.com. And tune in to Land Line Now, where Terry Scruton talks with DAT’s Mark Montague for details on spot truckload rates.

(Editor’s note: The analysis above is provided to Land Line as a reader service from DAT Solutions. Rates and trends reported are reflected in the DAT Solutions network of load boards.)

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