In the American Trucker Money Roll this week, DAT reports that spot load volume is up, but only flatbed picked up rate gains; the federal government's monthly freight measures slipped, largely on declining rail shipments; but the rail industry reports a weekly gain in intermodal; and, finally, the big picture economic news is that consumers are feeling better about job prospects but remain concerned about business conditions.
Spot load volume up, rates steady
The spot truckload freight market followed seasonal patterns during the week ending April 4 as load availability increased and capacity tightened, according to DAT Solutions, which operates the DAT network of load boards.
The overall number of available loads on DAT load boards rose 3.2% against a 1% decrease in posted capacity compared to the previous week.
The national average rate for flatbed freight added 3 cents to $2.22 per mile, reflecting a 5-cent uptick in the linehaul portion of the rate and a 2-cent drop in the fuel surcharge, DAT reports.
Regionally, average flatbed rates out of Pittsburgh rose 27 cents to $2.36 per mile and Harrisburg, Pa., added 20 cents to $3.59 per mile. Southeastern markets stayed strong as Tampa jumped 23 cents to $1.63 per mile and Jacksonville, down a penny, was $2.71 a mile.
Flatbed load availability was up 9% last week while capacity also added 3.4%. The load-to-truck ratio rose 5% from 19.9 to 20.9 loads per truck, meaning that for every available flatbed truck last week there were 20.9 available loads.
Demand for refrigerated equipment slipped (down 0.8%) while available capacity increased 1.9%, which pushed the reefer load-to-truck ratio down from 8.2 to 7.9. The national average rate for reefer freight was unchanged at $2.15 per mile.
The national average spot rate for van loads was $1.92 per mile last week, down 2 cents due to a decline in the fuel surcharge. The linehaul portion of the rate has been unchanged for four weeks.
Van freight availability slipped 0.5%, with reduced activity at the end of the week due to Good Friday and the start of a new fiscal quarter. Truckload capacity fell 2.9%, boosting the national load-to-truck ratio 3.5% from 3.4 to 3.5 loads per truck.
Rates are derived from DAT RateView and the DAT Network of load boards. For a complete national and regional report on spot rates and demand, visit dat.com/trendlines. DAT Trendlines is a weekly report on spot market freight availability, truck capacity, and rates.
DOT freight measure slips
The Freight Transportation Services Index (TSI), which is based on the amount of freight carried by the for-hire transportation industry, fell 1.7 percent in February from January, falling after a minimal rise in January, according to the U.S. DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ (BTS).
In terms of recent benchmarks, the February 2015 index level (120.4) was 27.3 percent above the April 2009 low during the most recent recession and 2.4 percent below the all-time high level of 123.3 in November 2014. BTS’ TSI records begin in 2000.
A large decline in rail carloads, rail intermodal, coupled with smaller declines in trucking and water resulted in the decline in the overall freight index in February, despite an increase in pipeline, according the report. Unusual winter weather played a role in much of this decline in transportation related economic activity. Transportation may also have been impacted by labor issues at West Coast ports.
Year to date, freight shipments measured by the index were down 1.7 percent in February compared to the end of 2014.
The Freight TSI measures the month-to-month changes in freight shipments by mode of transportation in tons and ton-miles, which are combined into one index.
Intermodal volume rises as overall rail traffic dips
U.S. rail traffic for the week ending April 4 was 549,021 carloads and intermodal units, down 1.5 percent compared with the same week last year, the Association of American Railroads (AAR) reports.
Total carloads for the week were down 6.2 percent compared with the same week in 2014, while weekly intermodal volume was up 3.8 percent.
Two of the 10 carload commodity groups posted increases compared with the same week in 2014. They were: grain, up 5.7 percent; and forest products, up 2.3 percent. Commodity groups that saw decreases during this one week included: coal, down 11.7 percent; metallic ores and metals, down 6.2 percent; and nonmetallic minerals, down 5.2 percent.
For the first 13 weeks of 2015, U.S. railroads reported cumulative volume of 3,644,976 carloads, down 0.2 percent from the same point last year; and 3,289,725 intermodal units, up 0.4 percent from last year. Total combined U.S. traffic for the first 13 weeks of 2015 was up 0.1 percent compared to last year.
Consumer confidence rebounds, but signals mixed
The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index, which had decreased in February, improved in March. The Index now stands at 101.3 (1985=100), up from 98.8 in February. The Expectations Index increased from 90.0 last month to 96.0 in March. The Present Situation Index, however, decreased from 112.1 in February to 109.1.
“This month’s increase was driven by an improved short-term outlook for both employment and income prospects; consumers were less upbeat about business conditions,” said Lynn Franco, director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board. “Consumers’ assessment of current conditions declined for the second consecutive month, suggesting that growth may have softened in Q1, and doesn’t appear to be gaining any significant momentum heading into the spring months.”
The percentage of consumers saying business conditions are “good” was unchanged at 26.7 percent, while those claiming business conditions are “bad” increased from 16.7 percent to 19.4 percent. Consumers were mixed in their assessment of the job market. The proportion stating jobs are “plentiful” edged up from 20.3 percent to 20.6 percent, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” also edged up from 25.1 percent to 25.4 percent.
Consumers’ optimism about the short-term outlook, which had declined last month, rebounded in March. The percentage of consumers expecting business conditions to improve over the next six months decreased slightly, from 17.6 percent to 16.7 percent; however, those expecting business conditions to worsen also fell, from 8.9 percent to 8.0 percent.
Consumers’ outlook for the labor market saw stronger gains. Those anticipating more jobs in the months ahead increased from 13.8 percent to 15.5 percent, while those anticipating fewer jobs declined from 14.8 percent to 13.5 percent. The proportion of consumers expecting growth in their incomes improved from 16.4 percent to 18.4 percent, while the proportion expecting a drop declined from 10.8 percent to 9.9 percent.