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DAT: Don’t be fooled by February’s seasonal spot rate dip

Freight volumes are way up year-over-year, making it the second-strongest February in two decades.

TL spot freight volumes and rates declined 14% month-over-month in February, which is typically the slowest month for freight all year, according to DAT Solutions.

Yet the load board operator added that despite that decline, it turned out to be the second-strongest February in 20 years, with the index of available loads increasing a whopping 62% compared to February 2017.

DAT noted that TL spot rates for dry van, refrigerated (“reefer”), and flatbed freight slipped lower month-over-month but continued to exceed 2017 levels.

The national average dry van spot rate dipped 11 cents to $2.13 per mile in February, but is 52 cents per mile higher compared to TL spot rates in February last year. In year-over-year comparisons, the spot rate for reefers exceeded the average contract rate for the sixth consecutive month, indicating extraordinary pressure on reefer capacity nationwide, the firm added.

Finally, the national average flatbed spot rate inched down a mere penny month-over-month to $2.36 per mile, which is 40 cents per mile higher year-over-year, DAT said. The spot rate for flatbeds matched the average contract rate in February, the firm added.

DAT industry analyst Mark Montague noted that increased volume at the end of the month and the first few days of March signaled an early start to the spring freight season.

“We expect rates to rebound well before the end of March,” he stressed.

"The end of the month and quarter coincide with Easter weekend as well as the start of the full penalty phase of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate on April 1," Montague pointed out. "Shippers will want to move freight ahead of these key dates, and the additional demand will intensify the strain on capacity, driving rates up."

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