DAT Solutions: Be ready for shift in reefer traffic

Special to Land Line | 3/9/2016

Spring has sprung on the spot freight market.

The number of available loads was up 12 percent during the week ending March 5, according to DAT Solutions, which operates the OOIDA MembersEdge load board. With capacity down 1.9 percent for the week, the national load-to-truck ratio rose to 3.5 loads per truck, meaning there were 3.5 loads for every truck posted. 


More good news: national average van, reefer, and flatbed freight rates all gained compared to the previous week. And with warmer days upon us, the refrigerated freight market is heating up—but not in all the places you’re used to. Let’s take a closer look:

The good
The number of reefer load posts was up 10 percent as a national average while truck posts fell 2 percent. The increased demand for trucks put the reefer load-to-truck ratio at 3.1 (up 12 percent) and helped send the national average rate up a penny to $1.80 per mile.

As you’d expect in March, rates are firming up in the Midwest. Reefer loads out of Green Bay paid an average of 6 cents more per mile ($2.51), and—in a nice surprise—average outbound rates from Chicago paid $2.07, up 4 cents. The load-to-truck ratio for vans in Chicago is still way below the national ratio, but lane rates rose 5 cents from Chicago to Dallas and 3 cents from Chicago to L.A.
The bad 
In central California, rates are just now starting to inch up from Fresno (average outbound rate: $1.78, up 1 cent) but the season is not expected to be very good. Heavy rain interfered with planting in December and January, which is reducing harvests of vegetables and berries. When California crops don’t do well, expect to see more reefer loads available along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The takeaway
If you pull reefers, expect to find more of your loads originating at the borders and ports. The #1 market for reefer load posts on DAT MembersEdge has been McAllen, Texas, another hot spot for fruit and vegetables coming across the border. Average outbound loads from McAllen paid $1.80 a mile last week, down a penny, but volume is building.

Increased food imports also mean there’s greater demand for reefers at ports like Miami and Savannah, with an ever-larger portion of the reefer freight in those markets originating from Chile and neighboring countries. Other ports that bear foreign fruit include East Coast docks at Philadelphia/Wilmington, and NY/Newark, as well as Los Angeles/Long Beach. 

The shift toward the ports also will affect seasonal rate spikes. The early rush in Florida won’t be as great, and the typical June boom in reefer rates may be muted, as well. It’s something to watch as we get deeper into Spring.

(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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