January Ends With Stabilizing Markets

January ended with stabilizing markets, reflecting similar trends to previous years — just at highly elevated levels. Last week, rates, rejections and volume did not make much noise. Markets throughout the country remain looser than what we have grown accustomed to since summer 2020.

Spot is slowing

Contract rates are climbing back up and in some cases exceeding spot rates, causing freight to remain within the routing guide in stable markets.

“Outbound California is a perfect example,” says Justin Maze, Transfix’s senior manager of carrier account management. “Shippers were quick to seek requotes, as contract rates are now higher than spot rates on prime lanes out of California, leading to less on the spot market and allowing shippers to regain control of their routing guide. We expected rates to be high regardless, and higher contract rates are allowing shippers to gain back control of cost and efficiency within their routing guide.

“Simply put: If you are going to pay a higher rate on the spot market, why not requote your contract business, so you can regain control and structure? It won’t happen everywhere at once, but we expect the trend to expand to other major markets.”

Overdrive agrees that seasonality and freight stability look to be stalling spot momentum that saw per-mile spot rates in all three major truckload segments (flatbed, dry van and reefer) increase every month from June to November: “That spot market momentum, however, might be on course to stall, at least briefly, as normal freight seasonality trends and typical market cycles return and override the factors that caused that spot boom in the first place.”

“As we talk to our carrier partners, many feel this is the new ‘normal’ for the time being, and they expect rates to stay pretty stable,” Maze says.

Volumes and capacity up, rejections flattening

During the last week in January, according to Seth Holm for FreightWaves: “Contracted tenders rose 1.8% week-over-week, snapping a very short-term downtrend. Both the West and East coasts saw strength in tenders. … We continue to expect an upward trajectory for volumes in coming weeks despite typical January seasonality. Contract volume on a tender rejection–adjusted basis is outpacing 2020 levels by 26.4%.

“Relative capacity loosened by just 13 basis points (bps) week-over-week to 21.97%, which indicates the rise in tenders was also driven by rising load volumes. … On the positive side, the slope of the downtrend in tender rejections appears to be flattening and bottoming out.” The Outbound Tender Reject Index (OTRI) has moved less than 2 percentage points during the past three weeks, currently sitting at 21.52%.

The falling rejection rates likely have been driven by improving routing guides and higher contract prices, as mentioned above.

“We may see further declines in OTRI over the coming weeks due to this factor, but if demand remains high (which we believe is more than likely), OTRI will remain high relative to historical averages until bottlenecks at driver-training schools can be resolved,” Holm writes.

 

With the uncertainty and volatility surrounding the U.S. economic recovery, shippers need a partner that can help them adapt and excel — no matter the circumstance. Shippers turn to Transfix for our leading technology and reliable carrier network. As volumes drive higher, we are here to help: Learn more about our Core Carrier program and Dynamic Lane Rates. As part of our ongoing market coverage, we’ll continue to provide breaking news, resources and insight into emerging trends and the pandemic’s impact on the transportation industry.

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