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DAT: Spot market slumps in February

March 17, 2023
Demand for truckload services sinks to pandemic-level lows in February, with spot reefer rates dropping 19 cents to $2.59 a mile.

Truckload freight volumes slipped in February and load-to-truck ratios, which indicate demand for truckload services on the spot market, hit their lowest points since May 2020, according to DAT Freight & Analytics.

The pricing environment for truckload services weakened further, with national average spot van and refrigerated rates dropping to levels not seen since September 2020.

“Truckload volumes retreated while the spread between spot and contract rates expanded to where they were before the holidays,” said Ken Adamo, DAT chief of analytics. “February volumes and spot rates gave carriers little incentive to move away from contracted freight.”

The DAT Truckload Volume Index (TVI) for van freight was 207, down 8% compared to January and 5% lower year-over-year. The reefer TVI fell to 162, 7.9% lower month-over-month and down 4.7% year-over-year. The flatbed TVI was virtually unchanged at 217 and was 7.9% higher year-over-year. It’s not uncommon for the number of loads moved to be lower compared to January in part because February is a shorter month.

Van rates fell to August 2020 levels

National average spot van and reefer rates fell to two-and-a-half-year lows.

  • The spot van rate was $2.24 per mile, down 14 cents compared to January and 63 cents less than the average contract van rate. The spot van rate in February was the lowest monthly average since August 2020 and was down 85 cents compared to February 2022.
  • The spot reefer rate dropped 19 cents to $2.59 a mile, 57 cents less than the average contract rate for reefer freight. The rate was 95 cents lower year-over-year and the lowest monthly average since October 2020.
  • The flatbed rate fell by 6 cents to $2.70 per mile, 73 cents lower than the average contract rate and 51 cents lower year-over-year.

Line-haul rates, which subtract an amount equal to an average fuel surcharge, declined to pre-holiday levels. Van line-haul rates averaged $1.71 a mile, down 12 cents compared to January, while reefer line-haul rates averaged $2.01 a mile, down 17 cents. The flatbed line-haul rate dipped 2 cents to $2.07 a mile.

Lower diesel prices in February pushed fuel surcharges to 12-month lows, averaging 53 cents a mile for van freight, 58 cents for reefers, and 63 cents for flatbeds.

Load-to-truck ratios reflect weak demand

Load-to-truck ratios reflect truckload supply and demand on the spot market and are leading indicators of the direction of rates.

  • The national average van load-to-truck ratio fell from 3.0 to 2.5, meaning there were 2.5 loads for every van posted to the DAT One marketplace last month. The ratio was 13.7 in February 2022.
  • The reefer ratio averaged 3.8, down from 4.9 in January and 10 points less than in February 2022.
  • The flatbed ratio was 13.6, up from 12.5. It was 83.9 in February 2022.

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