Market trends: Demand still spotty after August tonnage slip

Market trends: Demand still spotty after August tonnage slip

American Trucking Assns.

After an August slip in overall tonnage and spot rates, spot loads disappointed following Labor Day while truck availability surged last week, according to a pair market reports.

American Trucking Assns.’ advanced seasonally adjusted For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index declined 0.9% in August, following a revised increase of 3.1% during July. In August, the index equaled 134.2 (2000=100), down from 135.3 in July. The all-time high of 135.8 was reached in January 2015.

Compared with August 2014, the SA index increased 2.1%, which was below the 4% gain in July. Year-to-date through August, compared with the same period last year, tonnage was up 3.3%.

The not seasonally adjusted index, which represents the change in tonnage actually hauled by the fleets before any seasonal adjustment, equaled 137.0 in August, which was 0.5% below the previous month (137.6).

“After such a robust July, it is not too surprising that tonnage took a breather in August,” said ATA chief economist Bob Costello. “The dip after a strong gain goes with the up and down pattern we’ve seen this year.”

Costello said a few factors hurt August’s reading, including soft housing starts and falling factory output.

“As I said last month, I remain concerned about the high level of inventories throughout the supply chain. This could have a negative impact on truck freight volumes over the next few months,” he said.

More recently, however, an 11% increase in the number of posted loads and a 31% increase in available capacity helped push spot load-to-truck ratios down for all three equipment types during the week ending Sept. 19, according to DAT Solutions, which operates the DAT network of load boards.

A more significant increase in available loads is typical for the first full work week following Labor Day, DAT notes.

Van load availability increased 5.3%, which actually indicates a decline in demand; comparing a five-day work week to a four-day week, a 20 to 25% increase is more typical. Van capacity rose for the same reasons, but at a higher rate (up 31.1%). The resulting load-to-truck ratio decreased 19.7% to 1.6 loads per truck, meaning there were 1.6 available van loads for every truck posted on the DAT network.

The average van rate fell 2 cents as a national average to $1.75 per mile. Rates were down in most markets, although outbound rates held steady in California. 

During August, the average van rate was $1.75 per mile, 6 cents lower than in July, due partly to a 4-cent drop in the average fuel surcharge, and 25 cents below the rate for August 2014, also due to the fuel price decline that shaved 23 cents per mile off the average surcharge.

Flatbed load availability last week rose 19% and truck posts increased 31.6% compared to the previous week. The number of flatbed loads available per truck dropped 9.6% to 10.2. Despite the decline in the number of available loads, the national average spot flatbed rate added 1 cent to $2.04 per mile.

Refrigerated load volume increased just 6.4%, well below the norm after a holiday week. Truck posts were more in line with expectations, climbing 26.5%. The reefer load-to-truck ratio shrank 15.9% to 4.4 loads per truck, and the spot reefer rate slipped 1 cent to $2.03 per mile as a national average.

The national average price of diesel fell 3 cents to $2.49 per gallon last week. All reported rates include fuel surcharges.
 

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