As a part of our ongoing COVID-19 coverage, we’ll be providing breaking news, resources and insight into the pandemic’s impact on the industry.
Outbound Tender Volumes Fall WoW, but Up 10% YoY
Outbound tender volumes are benefiting from the reopening of the economy and a release of pent-up consumer demand. Volumes fell 8% week-over-week, ending multiweek growth from the mid-April bottom for OTVI. Despite this small dip, volumes are up 10% YoY compared with last year. They still show the highest rate of growth since the trucking market peaked in March.
“Volumes should continue to be supported by most of the states reopening, continued plugging of the income gap by generous unemployment benefits and stimulus, auto plants reopening, and produce seasons kicking into gear,” FreightWaves senior research analyst Seth Holm writes.
Tender Rejections Continue to Rise
Outbound tender rejections increased week-over-week for the third week in a row, after falling for the six weeks since the OTRI peak of 19.25% on March 28. OTRI is still in a relatively low range, historically speaking, FreightWaves reports.
Rejection rates vary by trailer type. Currently, reefer rejections are nearly double van and four times higher than flatbed. It follows that increases in refrigerated spot rates for produce loads, primarily from California and Arizona, translated to price hikes. US refrigerated spot trucking rates rose nearly 3%, topping $2 per mile in the week that ended May 24 from the previous week, according to Transfix’s internal data.
“There are pockets of tightening capacity, mostly on the West Coast and in New England,” Holm writes. “Now that volumes have begun to return, OTRI is likely to rise modestly in the coming weeks, as carriers regain confidence that they may have options besides their contracted freight.”
Spring Produce Drives Increasing Spot Rates and Demand
According to JOC.com, rising demand for spring produce is pushing up spot market rates, as well as demand for refrigerated and dry-van trucking equipment. The USDA reported that spot refrigerated rates from Nogales, Arizona (the US entry point for many produce shipments from Mexico), to many US markets were up by double digits from early May through May 19.
Justin Maze, Transfix’s senior carrier account manager, confirms the trend: “The chart below shows the highest van tender rejections in the Southeast (white line) and the West (green line), currently in high produce seasons. It’s also important to note spot rates in these regions have increased, but, overall, they are still lower than this time in 2019 and 2018, even though overall volume is greater than what we saw in those years. In some California markets, such as Los Angeles and Ontario, however, rates are actually higher than last year. Also, areas such as the Midwest (purple line) are also starting to stabilize, as manufacturing is coming back online, including the automotive industry in mid-May.”
The combination of produce season, business re-openings and demand stabilization are helping to increase US trucking activity. The increase in demand and pricing, as well as tightening capacity in some regions, may portend what’s to come as the US economy expands.
Rise in Diesel Prices, Decrease in Trucking Conditions Lead to Uncertainty
Following a 19-week decline of on-highway diesel prices, the average US price per gallon rose for the first time this year during the week ending May 26, according to the Department of Energy.
“Prices had fallen nearly 70 cents over 19 consecutive weeks from $3.079 per gallon during the week ending Jan. 6, to $2.386 per gallon during the week ending May 18, before a slight uptick of four-tenths of a cent during the most recent week,” Overdrive reports. “Diesel prices now stand at $2.39 per gallon nationwide.”
The rebound in diesel prices could force more carriers out of the market quickly — particularly struggling carriers who have been kept afloat by historically low fuel prices.
The FTR Trucking Conditions Index (TCI) is predicting the worst quarter for trucking on record, Logistics Management reports. According to freight transportation consultancy FTR, “A TCI reading above zero represents an adequate trucking environment, with readings above 10 indicating that volumes, prices and margin are in a good range for carriers.”
The March TCI (the most recent month for which data is available) was -8.69. FTR expects April to post an even worse score, before a return to improvement — and even the improvements likely will remain negative until mid-2021.
With the unreliable pace of US economic recovery and a likely loss of carriers in the market, shippers need a partner that can guarantee capacity in uncertain times. Our carrier network was specifically developed to provide flexibility in changing circumstances across the country.
The Transfix team will be monitoring the impact of fuel prices and trucking conditions, and their impact on regional and national rates. As a company, we remain committed to providing critical services to our customers during this crucial time. For more on COVID-19’s impact on the freight market, please refer to our website, blog, social channels and via email.