National average dry van truckload spot rates hit a YTD high last week at $3.07/mile and spot volumes recovered after the Thanksgiving holiday, but if you look closely at the trucking market, warning signs are flashing yellow.
Spot rates out of Los Angeles, Dallas and Atlanta are down across the board, and some major markets have seen tender rejections fall to levels in mid-August, the early stages of the trucking rally and well before the peak. Slower retail sales and inventory turns may be suppressing some trucking volatility this month as many retailers skipped the traditional heavy discounts in order to widen margins on their already-low inventories.
We still expect strong import volumes to feed West Coast intermodal networks well into Q1, but we question whether some of the truckload freight will lose its time sensitivity and urgency in January.
Tender rejections and spot rates still have another two weeks to accelerate before the holiday, and we think it’s a fair bet that they do. But more important to truckload carriers and freight brokers is the duration and sustainability of the current high-volume, high-rate environment, not simply how “peaky” this year’s peak is.
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John Paul conducts research on multimodal freight markets and holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Michigan. Prior to building a research team at FreightWaves, JP spent two years on the editorial side covering trucking markets, freight brokerage, and M&A.