Spot market truckload freight jumped 17 percent year-over-year in April, climbing 3.5 percent from March, according to load matching company TransCore DAT.
The TransCore DAT North American Freight Index in April hit its highest volume for a single month since the index was established in 1996, the company said.
That solid increase in spot market truck volumes last month is good news for a still growing North American freight market that seemed to decelerate in March.
“What we’ve seen so far in 2012 is some of the heaviest freight volumes we’ve ever seen, even compared with the 2004-to-2006 time frame when things were going gangbusters,” said David Schrader, senior vice president at TransCore.
That’s a sign that shippers are turning to the spot market to find trucks as demand rises and capacity at the motor carriers they use under contract remains tight.
“When you try to reconcile that kind of volume with modest economic growth, you hit the dynamics of the spot market,” Schrader said in an interview.
“Freight flows to the spot market when shippers hit tight capacity,” he said. Intermodal rail volumes are growing as well as shippers seek space for freight.
Spot market freight rates for dry vans were up 3.1 percent in April over March and 3.2 percent in March from February, but were flat year-over-year last month.
Flatbed rates were up 4.9 percent and reefer trailer rates 5.5 percent from March, according to TransCore DAT, which operates the DAT network of load boards.
Unseasonably warm winter weather in 2012 has made year-over-year comparisons of freight shipping patterns difficult. Severe storms in January and February 2011 disrupted shipping and sent pent-up freight flooding onto highways in March.
This year, shippers took advantage of a relatively balmy February to move freight earlier than usual, which meant less truck freight to ship in March.
The American Trucking Associations For-Hire Truck Tonnage Index rose only 2.7 percent year-over-year in March, after climbing 5.5 percent in February.
The spot market index dropped 6.1 percent in March from a year ago. On a month-to-month basis, however, the TransCore DAT index rose 40 percent in March.
The monthly and year-over-year gain on the spot market in April may indicate that correction is over and send that for-hire truck tonnage index back up.
“We’ve seen signs of economic deceleration as well,” Schrader said. “But we’ve had a couple of months already that have been record volume months.”