After four months of steep declines, US spot truckload rates are stabilizing — including in the critical West Coast market — amid the traditional uptick in freight activity between Memorial Day and July 4.
It’s not clear, however, whether that will result in a slowdown in freight movement or an urgency to get the appropriate inventory in stock before the holiday season while retailers mark down prices to flush the unneeded inventory.
Jon Payne, senior manager of pricing, strategy, and analytics for digital broker Loadsmart, said rates will bounce up and down in the 35 days between Memorial Day and July 4.
“From March to May we saw extreme market softening, the largest decrease in rates and capacity loosening we’ve seen in years,” Payne told JOC.com. “There was a bounce back starting in mid-May approaching Memorial Day. Freight has bounced back about 5 percent since Memorial Day, the first sign of stabilization we’ve seen in some time, so we’re watching it closely.”
The JOC Shipper Truckload Spot Rate Index, which measures shipper-paid rates across the US, fell from $3.01 per mile in April to $2.88 in May, but the rate through the first week of June had climbed to $2.91/mile.
The peak of the van spot market was $3.38/mile in January, according to the index, which is compiled by analyzing data from Cargo Chief, DAT Freight and Analytics, and Loadsmart, and surveying shippers and third-party logistics providers.
California was a precursor for the spot rate slowdown in the last three months. Spot van rates there fell 2.3 percent between November and December, and then dropped another 20 percent in the first four months of the year. What started in California in November eventually spread to the rest of the US.
But while spot van rates fell 13 cents between April and May nationally, rates fell only 2 cents in California and less than a penny out of Los Angeles in the same period, according to the JOC Index. Shipper rates out of California are up 3 cents through the first week of this month and DAT’s forecast calls for broker-to-driver rates to climb 12 cents month over month in June, based on 212 California lanes in the JOC Index.
That’s not surprising as shippers are frontloading cargo into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to hedge against any potential supply chain disruption linked to ongoing labor talks on the West Coast. In addition, California is a major provider of produce, which is in peak season now.
Shippers nationally are paying less today to move a load on the spot market than under contract, according to the JOC Index.
“Contracts are now coming down, the peak has crested,” Payne said. “We’ve been seeing that for a couple of months now. It’s starting to get more competitive on contract rates.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that shippers should expect truckload prices to be cheaper than a year ago, especially when fuel is included.
Contract truckload rates were up 19 percent last month compared with May 2021, which includes fuel surcharges that in many cases are 40 cents higher per mile than a year ago, according to the 115 lanes tracked in the JOC Intermodal Savings Index.
Excluding fuel, DAT reported contract van rates in May were up 8.5 percent compared with a year ago.