DAT Truckload Volume Index highlights impact of lower spot rates and high fuel costs

Truckload spot market activity, for the month of March, was mixed, due to the combination of lower spot market rates and rising fuel costs, while truckload freight volumes headed up and contract loads saw record-high prices, according to the new edition of the DAT Truckload Volume Index (TVI), which was recently released by DAT Freight & Analytics.

The DAT Truckload Volume Index reflects the change in the number of loads with a pickup date during that month, with the actual index number normalized each month to accommodate any new data sources without distortion, with a baseline of 100 equal to the number of loads moved in January 2015. It measures dry van, refrigerated (reefer), and flatbed trucks moved by truckload carriers.

March’s TVI dry van freight reading—at 305—was up 23% compared to February, while the refrigerated TVI—at 206—and the flatbed TVI—at 247—were up 13% and 24%, respectively, for the same period. DAT said that these readings indicate that more loads moved in March, a month which also had more shipping days than February.

DAT’s data highlighted the following takeaways for truckload volumes, load-to-truck ratios, and rates, for the month of March, including:

  • the average rate, for van freight under contract, increased $0.19, to $3.28 per mile, topping the previous high set in February;
  • the average contract reefer rate, at $3.45 per mile, increased $0.20;
  • the average flatbed rate increased $0.24, to $3.69 per mile;
  • the national average spot market van rate decreased $0.03, to $3.06 per mile, compared to February;
  • the national average spot reefer rate fell $0.09, to $3.44 per mile;
  • the national average flatbed rate increased $0.26, to $3.45 per mile, setting a new record;
  • spot truckload rates, which DAT said are negotiated as one-time transactions between a freight broker and a carrier, which include a fuel surcharge, decreased $0.21, to $2.42 per mile, when removing the fuel surcharge, with the spot truckload reefer and flatbed rates down $0.28, to $2.74 per mile, and up $0.05, to $2.68 per mile, respectively, under the same formula;
  • spot rates were well above year-ago levels, when the average price of fuel was $3.15 a gallon: in March 2021, the national average van rate was $2.67 per mile, the reefer rate was $2.95 a mile and the flatbed rate was $2.78 a mile;
  • there were 3.7% more loads posted to the DAT load board network in March 2022 compared to March 2021; and
  • the national average van load-to-truck ratio highlighted how the supply of trucks on the spot market outpaced demand, with van down to 4.6 from February’s 7.3, reefer at 8.4, down from 13.7, while flatbed increased from 83.9 to 89.8

 

“What made March unique is that shippers paid historically high prices to ensure that more of their loads moved under a longer-term contract, reducing their need for trucks on the spot market and causing rates to soften,” said Ken Adamo, DAT’s Chief of Analytics, in a statement. “At the same time, carriers’ operating costs increased because of higher fuel prices. As a national average, fuel cost $1.07 per gallon more in March compared to February and $1.95 a gallon more year over year.”

 

Adamo added that small trucking companies and independent operators experienced what he called significantly higher operating costs and lower revenues than they’ve become accustomed to over the past couple of years.

 

The DAT executive recently told LM that over the last four months, there has been a pretty stark correction in the spot market.

 

“There is no doubt about that…and we continue to experience it,” he said. “We track this activity daily but don’t push it out daily, as it would cause confusion. The week of April 4 was the first time since June 2020 that the daily spot rate was year-over-year negative. But, again, we are still not year-over-year-over-year negative, save for a very short term. It is really hard to think about what would have happened last year. In late February 2021, rates were correcting hard and then Texas froze and then the Delta variant hit in March 2021. There is a lot of seasonal pressure happening right now as well.”

About the Author

Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman

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