• DATVF.ATLPHL
    1.638
    -0.014
    -0.8%
  • DATVF.CHIATL
    1.963
    0.087
    4.6%
  • DATVF.DALLAX
    0.897
    -0.106
    -10.6%
  • DATVF.LAXDAL
    1.549
    -0.024
    -1.5%
  • DATVF.SEALAX
    0.976
    0.052
    5.6%
  • DATVF.PHLCHI
    0.939
    0.039
    4.3%
  • DATVF.LAXSEA
    2.034
    -0.050
    -2.4%
  • DATVF.VEU
    1.513
    0.037
    2.5%
  • DATVF.VNU
    1.414
    -0.009
    -0.6%
  • DATVF.VSU
    1.223
    -0.065
    -5%
  • DATVF.VWU
    1.505
    0.001
    0.1%
  • ITVI.USA
    10,157.610
    34.840
    0.3%
  • OTRI.USA
    4.860
    -0.020
    -0.4%
  • OTVI.USA
    10,152.020
    35.380
    0.3%
  • TLT.USA
    2.400
    -0.020
    -0.8%
  • WAIT.USA
    150.000
    0.000
    0%
  • DATVF.ATLPHL
    1.638
    -0.014
    -0.8%
  • DATVF.CHIATL
    1.963
    0.087
    4.6%
  • DATVF.DALLAX
    0.897
    -0.106
    -10.6%
  • DATVF.LAXDAL
    1.549
    -0.024
    -1.5%
  • DATVF.SEALAX
    0.976
    0.052
    5.6%
  • DATVF.PHLCHI
    0.939
    0.039
    4.3%
  • DATVF.LAXSEA
    2.034
    -0.050
    -2.4%
  • DATVF.VEU
    1.513
    0.037
    2.5%
  • DATVF.VNU
    1.414
    -0.009
    -0.6%
  • DATVF.VSU
    1.223
    -0.065
    -5%
  • DATVF.VWU
    1.505
    0.001
    0.1%
  • ITVI.USA
    10,157.610
    34.840
    0.3%
  • OTRI.USA
    4.860
    -0.020
    -0.4%
  • OTVI.USA
    10,152.020
    35.380
    0.3%
  • TLT.USA
    2.400
    -0.020
    -0.8%
  • WAIT.USA
    150.000
    0.000
    0%
Freight FuturesModesNewsTruckingTruckload

The fall outlook for trucking rates, according to forward curves

According to Trucking Freight Futures forward curves, the Chicago to Atlanta lane should see a run-up in September, while Los Angeles to Dallas will peak in November and Seattle to Los Angeles will hit its customary high in December.

One of the most interesting things about a futures exchange – whether the underlying commodity is wheat, natural gas or trucking spot rates – is that traders can get a transparent view into where the market thinks prices will move. 

For many commodities, the forward curve isn’t really a forecast of future spot prices, because it has to take into account things like the cost of storing crude oil, for example, or the transportation costs of delivering cotton. 

But the trucking freight futures contract, trading on the Nodal Exchange, is financially settled, meaning that physical trucking capacity is not delivered when the contract expires. Instead, money moves on the exchange according to the traders’ positions with regard to the monthly settlement price. 

“Since Trucking Freight Futures are financial derivatives that are cash-settled with no delivery, there are no carry costs built into the Trucking Freight Futures rate,” said Gary Saykaly, senior vice president of trucking and freight derivatives at Lakefront Futures & Options. “The futures prices are entirely based on the expectations of future supply and demand and are derived from an exchange-hosted, transparent competitive bidding process [like all exchange-based stock prices and derivatives], reflecting everything the market knows today. Because of that, trucking rate futures prices reflect true market rates and will provide a very useful price discovery tool when determining which direction the market expects trucking rates to move.”

For example, a trucking carrier hedging its natural ‘long’ position (i.e., trucking carriers fundamentally want rates to go up) would sell a freight futures contract, or be ‘short’ the rate. If the carrier decided to sell August contracts on the Los Angeles to Dallas lane for $1.62/mile (or $1,620 for a standard contract of 1,000 miles), but the average price on that lane ended up being $1.50/mile, $120 would be transferred to the carrier’s account. The effect is the same as having the right to sell something in August for $1.62 but then finding out in August that it can be bought for an average of $1.50 – there’s an immediate profit of $0.12. 

By looking at the Trucking Freight Futures forward curves, carriers, shippers and brokers can see where the market thinks prices are going. Because the Trucking Freight Futures exchange has multiple contracts for the national average, regions and major lanes, industry observers can get a sense of how seasonality is expected to affect different markets.

Keep in mind that Trucking Freight Futures contracts settle against the average monthly price. In the following paragraphs, peak prices during certain historical months will be noted, like September 2018, and these will always be higher than the average monthly prices expected by the futures market.

Chart: FreightWaves SONAR. Chicago to Atlanta in white; Seattle to Los Angeles in green; Los Angeles to Dallas in orange.

Contracts for the Chicago to Atlanta lane (FWD.VCA) reflect an inflationary environment in the fall and into the end of 2019, with the September 2019 contract currently bid at $1.96/mile. After that, Chicago to Atlanta moves up slightly to about $2.00/mile in December and January 2020 before dropping off in the spring of 2020.

Indeed, in 2018 dry van spot rates from Chicago to Atlanta (DATVF.CHIATL) reached a second-half peak on September 13 at $2.52/mile. After the Labor Day holiday in 2018, volumes outbound from Chicago (OTVI.CHI) surged 13.9 percent through October 5, supporting elevated rates.

Los Angeles to Dallas futures contracts (FWD.VLD) peak a bit later, in November 2019, at $2.05/mile. Last year, dry van spot prices from Los Angeles to Dallas (DATVF.LAXDAL) also peaked in November, albeit somewhat choppily; the 15-day moving average for the lane peaked in November at $2.29/mile. Volumes outbound from Los Angeles (OTVI.LAX) also surged in two separate spikes during November 2018, one at the beginning of the month and one at the end. This summer, inbound container volumes to West Coast ports have recovered and reached levels above 2017 and just below 2018 for the month of June, according to a recent report from Susquehanna.

“Both spot market and freight futures rates have decreased since the beginning of July, with the exception of the DAT South Van spot rate index and the DAT South Van Index March 2020 contract,” Saykaly pointed out. The ‘South’ regional contract averages Los Angeles to Dallas and Dallas to Los Angeles.

“The Trucking Freight Futures directional lanes and calculated indices are showing that the market expects truck rates to decrease through the end of the summer and start rebounding in September through the end of the year,” Saykaly explained. “The DAT East Van futures contract is an exception, with the futures prices showing that rates are expected to decline or remain flat until the end of the year.”

For Seattle to Los Angeles contracts (FWD.VSL), the futures market reflects the conventional wisdom about Christmas tree season, and the December 2019 contract is being bid at the highest price on that curve at $1.13/mile. In December 2018 the lane hit a high of $1.34.

FreightWaves will continue to monitor the forward curves as more information enters the market and sentiment evolves.

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John Paul Hampstead, Associate Editor

John Paul writes about current events and economics, especially politics, finance, and commodities, and holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Michigan. In previous lives John Paul studied Shakespeare in London and Buddhism in India, but now he focuses on transportation and logistics in the heart of Freight Alley--Chattanooga. He spends his free time with his wife and daughter herding cats, collecting books, and walking alongside the Tennessee River.

5 Comments

  1. I don’t know who is running those cheap rates but if they do….they running for a bankruptcy in hurry.
    I don’t run nothing under $2.25 per mile for a dry van.
    But mega carriers can afford to pay $.60 to $.68 cpm to their drivers plus benefits and they still have plenty money to pay their other expensive including brand new equipment and super expensive insurance and management.
    I think this articles should become more realistic in numbers because we are not dumb….

  2. The rates being offered are ridiculous and they allow brokers to get away with it! Carriers who accept those cheap rates need to understand that they are hurting us all including themselves! We have to pull together and take pride in what we do and get paid what we deserve!!!
    I agree with Stevene, we are going bankrupt and out of a job if this continues!!!!

  3. I agree with you Stevene and JC. Those numbers really are not realistic. I work for a smaller non-asset 3PL and am the only person there taking care of their brokerage needs off the West Coast, but I don’t get to buy at the ridiculous rates that TQL and Uber Freight do. It’s not only hurting truckers, but non-asset 3PLs as well. It’s getting to the point that we are only warehousing and moving LTL with the exception of a few higher end clients who can tolerate the cost of a quality carrier. We are constantly getting beaten down by large brokerages who use sub-par carriers and are trying to steal market share away from 3PLs by selling at cost or a loss just to dominate the business. We can’t blame this all on brokerages though, as the way they have developed as of late is only a product of the current mentality of their customers. I put the blame on the shippers for the most part, because they have driven rates down so much, and large brokerages like that are using Freightguard-laden scum carriers who have to work for pennies, because nobody else will hire them. The customers don’t seem to care, though. They just send out a blast to brokers and 3PLs, never caring to develop a relationship that allows us to earn better pricing with good carriers. Whoever comes in with the lowest rate, so even if I were to buy capacity at the posted DAT average,, we are still beat out by TQL or Uber at the end of the day, because the customer won’t tolerate our mere 10% markup to cover our overhead, especially when those other guys are buying at the low end of what’s posted or lower.. The customers fail to see the big picture of what they are doing, just as people fail to see the big picture when they shop at Walmart. Then there is the instant gratification factor with instant pricing from your desktop in seconds, whereas I have to pick up the phone, send emails, schmooze people, etc. I could go on, but I think I’m preaching to the choir here.

    1. I totally agree with Pete. I blame the shippers more than anyone, having to bid spot rates per load in a large group of other brokers and can lose a bid over as little as a $20.00 lower quote. I get underbid repeatedly but I am holding to “I may not be the cheapest broker to my customer, but doing my best to hold to being the better broker”. So true about the quality of carriers taking the lower spot rate. 30 + years in this business, I see a repeat of 07 when so many smaller carriers and independents had to close up shop due to low rates.

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