What’s behind January’s spot market freight boom?

Truck News

TORONTO, Ont. — There has been an abundance of available freight on the spot market to begin 2013, creating one of the most freight-rich months on record.

The DAT North American Freight Index surged 42% year-over-year in January, and was up 24% compared to December 2012. This marked the first time in the index’s history that January volumes exceeded those of December.

On average over the past 10 years, spot market freight has decreased 13% in January compared to December.

Meanwhile, in Canada, TransCore Link Logistics’ Canadian Freight Index showed similar strength. The index recorded the highest load volumes ever for January, surpassing the previous record in January 2011 by 3%. January load volumes in Canada were up 25% from December 2012, and up 4% year-over-year.

The boom in spot market freight availability has some scratching their heads. Is it an indication of a strong freight environment or are other factors are play? Turns out a bit of both. There were more weekdays during the month of January this year, which could’ve had an affect. But there’s more to the sudden surge in spot market freight, according to David Shrader, senior vice-president of DAT’s freight-matching business in Portland, Ore.

“According to Mark Montague, DAT’s industry pricing analyst and chief market-watcher, extraordinary things are happening with higher levels of exports to Brazil, China, and Mexico. Much of this export freight is industrial freight, which tends to be spot-market freight,” Shrader explained. “Also, according to industry reports, the ‘contract marketplace’ – ie., freight shippers directly contracting loads out to carriers -shrank by 2.5% in January. This would have forced capacity into the spot market, which, while robust, is smaller than the contract marketplace. The net-net of all this is that loads as well as trucks (capacity) greatly increased on the spot market in January.”

Unfortunately for truckers, it seems the high volumes of freight up for grabs on the spot market hasn’t yet translated into higher rates.

“The net impact on spot market rates through most of January was negative, as the excess capacity in the marketplace competed for available loads,” Shrader said. “Regarding contract rates, in January it appeared that shippers were cautious about committing to higher contract rate volumes due to conflicting signals about consumer demand. Additionally, when fuel prices increased recently, carriers realized the need to adjust pricing. That is contributing to higher fuel surcharge numbers (calculated) in most regions of the US, with the result of the overall net rate rising.”

Shrader said it’s not unheard of for the spot market to grow even as overall freight volumes are contracting.

“The spot market often absorbs the effect of a mismatch between demand and available capacity in the larger freight market,” he explained. “This mismatch can occur because of unexpected or large-scale changes in the freight marketplace or even in the economy. Specific markets, regions, and/or equipment types may be affected disproportionately, or there may be a broad trend among shippers to respond to economic conditions in a certain way.”

So far, it appears February is shaping up to be another strong month on the spot market, Shrader said, and it could finally result in higher rates.

“If January was the ‘unexpected trend,’ February data is shaping up as you might expect in a dynamic market. We’re seeing increased demand regarding spot freight plus tightened capacity contributing to a rise in the line-haul rate.” 

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