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Trucking Trends: 2017 Truckload Freight: Top of the Charts

By Mark Montague, DAT Solutions

We've been producing our DAT North American Freight Index for nearly 20 years, and during that time one reliable trend is how spot truckload freight activity picks up in the second quarter and then tapers off following the Fourth of July holiday.

So far, the trend is holding up in 2017.

The June DAT Freight Index increased 24 percent compared to May and was up 57 percent year over year, capping a robust Q2. The number of refrigerated freight posts was up 23 percent compared to May and 66 percent year over year. Van freight activity jumped 35 percent compared to May and 68 percent year over year.

Brokers and shippers paid a premium in major markets and lanes. The national average reefer rate was up 10 cents to $2.12 per mile compared to May, while the van rate gained 11 cents to $1.80 per mile. Compared to June 2016, spot van rates climbed 11.3% and the impact is starting to be felt in contract rates as well: the average contract van rate rose 3.6% year over year.

Flatbed freight, which includes construction materials and machinery, showed more modest gains. Activity increased 14 percent compared to May and year-over-year gains were more substantial, up 66 percent compared to June 2016.

By mid July, however, reefer volumes were down in part due to triple-digit temperatures in the Southwest, cutting produce yields, and average spot rates were declining in markets like California and central Florida, especially for hauls longer than 450 miles.

Van load availability and pricing trends remain high but also began to soften in July.

After spot truckload freight activity rallied to record highs and national average rates reached their highest points in two years, the trendline is moving as expected in 2017. It's just positioned higher on the chart this year.

Mark Montague is industry rate analyst for DAT Solutions, which operates the DAT® network of load boards and RateView rate-analysis tool. For information, visit www.dat.com.