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Atlanta tops DAT’s list of spot truckload markets in 2020

Jan. 12, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic led to an explosion of spot market activity in 2020. With rankings based on an analysis of more than 126 million freight matches, check out the Top 10 cities in the dry van, reefer, and flatbed markets.

Atlanta was the hottest place to find spot van and refrigerated truckload freight in 2020, according to DAT Freight & Analytics.

Atlanta topped the list as the market with the most available spot van and refrigerated loads while Houston held the No. 1 market for flatbed freight posts. The rankings are based on an analysis of more than 126 million freight matches and spot market truckload shipments with lengths of haul of 250 miles or more.

A spot load is transactional freight not under contract that a shipper or broker makes available on the DAT network of load boards. Because spot freight is unscheduled and not under contract, it is seen as a dynamic indicator of changes in the economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to an explosion of spot market activity in 2020. In a normal year, 12 to 15% of all truckload shipments are transacted on the spot market. In 2020, that figure was nearly 23% as spot rates climbed to all-time highs, according to DAT.

2021 picks up where 2020 left off

Spot truckload activity during the first full week of 2021 picked up where it left off at the end of 2020, with big increases in load and truck posts as shippers worked through freight that was backlogged during the holidays, according to the latest from DAT Freight & Analytics.

Compared to the previous week, the number of freight postings increased 46% and available trucks on DAT load boards jumped 59% during the week ending Jan. 10. Load-to-truck ratios dipped as a result and spot pricing fell slightly compared to the previous week, although national average rates are considerably higher than December averages.

National Average Rates, January

  • Van: $2.53 per mile, 7 cents higher than the December average
  • Flatbed: $2.48 per mile, 1 cent higher than December
  • Refrigerated: $2.79 per mile, 11 cents higher than December

These are national average spot rates for the month through Jan. 10. These averages are based on actual transactions negotiated between the carrier and the broker or shipper.

Early 2021 Trendlines 

Van volumes swing higher to start the year: The number of loads moved on DAT’s top 100 van lanes by volume jumped 16% compared to the previous week on the strength of retail restocking and e-commerce. The average spot truckload rate fell on 59 of those 100 lanes, was neutral on 18 lanes, and increased on 23 lanes.

The average outbound spot van rate declined in major West Coast markets and particularly in California, where port congestion continues and load availability has fallen dramatically compared to four weeks ago:

  • Los Angeles: $3.13 a mile, down 14 cents on a 4% increase in volume compared to the previous week
  • Stockton, Calif.: $2.63 a mile, down 4 cents on a 16% increase in volume
  • Seattle: $2.05 a mile, down 6 cents on a 4.5% increase in volume

Shippers have been diverting containerized volume from the West Coast and Gulf Coast ports have been the beneficiaries: Houston container volumes are up 28% year over year.

Produce markets start to grow: Nationally, the average reefer load-to-truck ratio dropped from 15.6 to 12.3 last week as food shipments slow after post-holiday restocking. The number of loads moved on DAT’s top 72 reefer lanes by volume fell 10.4% week over week and is down 20.4% over the last four weeks.

The average rate was higher on 48 of those lanes, however, compared to the previous week. The top-risers were seasonal produce lanes as harvests continue in Arizona and California and imports hit port markets in the Northeast and Mexican border:

  • Tucson, Ariz., to Chicago: $3.02 a mile, up 46 cents
  • Tucson to Dallas: $3.32 a mile, up 43 cents
  • Elizabeth, N.J., to Chicago: $2.24 a mile, up 20 cents
  • McAllen, Texas, to Elizabeth: $3.57 a mile, up 28

Flatbed demand remains strong: The national average flatbed load-to-truck ratio declined from 52.7 to 50.3 last week, well ahead of the monthly average of 40.2 in December and 13.3 in December 2019. Pricing on DAT’s top 78 flatbed lanes was higher on 27 lanes, lower on 21 lanes, and neutral on 30 lanes. Volume on these lanes fell 7.8% compared to the previous week.

The flatbed market experienced a boost from better-than-expected manufacturing data, with the U.S. manufacturing index rising slightly in December.

About the Author

FleetOwner Staff

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Kevin Jones, Editorial Director, Commercial Vehicle Group

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