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Trucking spot market underperforms expectations by 10% in June

Photo: Jim Allen - FreightWaves

FreightWaves’ SONAR chart of the week (July 21, 2019 – July 27, 2019)

Chart of the Week: DAT US National Long Haul Van Freight Rate Index – USA, Freight Futures National Settlement Price – June (SONAR: DATVF.VNU, FUT.VNU201906 )

The DAT US National Long Haul Van Freight Rate Index which measures the average long haul spot rate for dry van truckloads in the U.S. excluding fuel and other accessorial charges averaged $1.50/mile in June. This number fell well below expectations according to the freight futures settlement price which started the month over $1.66/mile, meaning futures market participants expected rates to be much higher than they were this June.

Looking at the national DAT Long Haul Van Freight Rate Index over the past five years, the fall of 2017 till December of 2018 sticks out like a sore thumb due to a massive swell in upward rate pressure. The effects of such a bullish year in spot rates will have lasting effects for years to come. As long as there are people who remember that this level of volatility is possible, spot rates will have the potential to swing wildly.

The impact of 2018 is still being felt today. Rates may not be as high as they were a year ago, but there is still a level of uneasiness about how quickly the situation can change, and the pendulum can swing the other direction.  

Most people apply more weight to near term information, this is called the recency bias. This is not altogether fallacy, as more recent information tends to be more reliable in predicting near term outcomes. When budgeting for 2019 most companies looked at the previous year and applied percentage increases or decreases. Most of the time it provides guidance that many refer to as being ‘directionally accurate’, but lacking precision.

Looking at last June, it would have made sense to have expected a significant surge in spot pricing this year, seeing as this occurs every year as volumes tend to increase with the temperature, tightening capacity. Predicting seasonality is not that difficult, but what anyone who has attempted forecasting will tell you is predicting its magnitude. Futures were created to help people deal with this uncertainty.

Futures in many other industries provide a layer of transparency into what the consensus of commodity prices like oil and frozen concentrated orange juice will be. Keep in mind, there are few that know what any future price will be, hence the value of an aggregated value based on multiple perspectives, as no one person can claim 100% visibility into the value of a commodity. But multiple people spread throughout the spectrum of buyer (shippers) to intermediary (broker) seller (carrier) can give insight.

The most tangible value of futures is not in price discovery, however, but the ability to hedge your position in the market. If a carrier shorted or sold a June contract at the beginning of the month, they would have at least guaranteed that they would have received $1.66/mile for however many miles they decided to sell, or 10% over the market average.

As with any financial instrument there is risk. The flipside of taking this position means carriers would not get as much benefit if spot prices went above the $1.66 threshold, effectively missing the high end, however the desired result was achieved.

The settlement price is calculated by the Nodal Exchange based on activity in the market each day. The price represents what participants expect the rate to be at the end of the month.

Looking back on the settlement price for June, there was a notable turn in direction around mid-May when many saw a significant decrease in market volumes. This decline was seen in FreightWaves own Outbound Tender Volume Index (OTVI) where national volumes fell almost 6% after the new tariffs on Chinese imports were implemented.

Futures provide a way to monitor the freight market and protect carriers and shippers from its wild swings. June may have underperformed many expectations, but it did not have to.

Disclosure: FreightWaves is partnered with DAT and Nodal Exchange in the promotion of Trucking Freight Futures. Trucking Freight Futures, like all futures products carry substantial risks. For information on Trucking Freight Futures, contact: Tom Mallon.

FreightWaves does not provide investment or financial advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal.

About the Chart of the Week

The FreightWaves Chart of the Week is a chart selection from SONAR that provides an interesting data point to describe the state of the freight markets. A chart is chosen from thousands of potential charts on SONAR to help participants visualize the freight market in real-time. Each week a Market Expert will post a chart, along with commentary live on the front-page. After that, the Chart of the Week will be archived on for future reference.

SONAR aggregates data from hundreds of sources, presenting the data in charts and maps and providing commentary on what freight market experts want to know about the industry in real time.

The FreightWaves data-science and product teams are releasing new data sets each week and enhancing the client experience.

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  1. Jonathan Lee

    Spot market or not I won’t further your goods to the consumer if I can’t put it on my truck and make a profit myself I am not out here to break even and I have seen a lot of loads that doesn’t pay enough to cover expenses let alone profit the rates are falling too far I will just take my toys and go home. Get your wallet out and pay a fair rate for what you are shipping or I will just leave it sit on your docks.

    1. Jonathan Gleave

      This comment makes too much sense this is how we fix a failing Industry if more drivers or owner operators or company owners. Thought This way we could truly begin to turn the trucking industry around. To make America great again really should start here
      You say if there’s no profit in it just leave it on the docks makes perfect sense then that would force shippers or receivers to compensate fairly I also believe that if more people in the trucking industry thought along the same lines and other things such as emissions which nobody spend adequate time and research and development And just refused to buy a truck with that garbage on it then maybe they wouldn’t build them anymore electronic logs same thing if more people refuse to drive trucks that have them Products wouldn’t make it to market then they would be forced to you take them off and get rid of the mandate The way I see it is problem solved if you don’t like it don’t do it

  2. RCJ

    How much of the falling spot market rates are due to supply side issues (more people getting into/back into trucking during the boom market and technology making it easy for companies to get loads off of load boards), consumer behavior or brokers taking too big of pieces of the pie? I hear from agents/carriers that they feel brokers are increasingly taking too much, squeezing margins for carriers and for independent contractors, but I can’t say if that’s the case or not.

    1. G-UNIT

      Everybody wants to blame brokers. They are not making any bigger margins than previously. Likely less, since the customers know the market as we. I am a broker and I have 70 trucks. We are all contracted. Meaning, we didnt get rich over the past year, but we are not going broke this year. Those who are going out of business, especially the smaller guys, having been customers over a barrel for 12-18 months. Since them those customers that have o reflow on the spot market have been clawing the huge rates back. Made people should have learned to save those huge margins they were making.

      1. iTrucker

        So you say, and maybe so. But there are brokers on YouTube claiming and bragging about making over a thousand dollars on one load. There is no load out there to justify a thousand bucks as a broker fee. Imagine that. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

      2. Steve

        You’re a broker ??? Now I know why the industry is in the shape it’s in. Telling people to save their money is a backhand to the face. If everyone sat on money like your tight ass none of us would be employed, including yourself.

Comments are closed.

Zach Strickland, FW Market Expert & Market Analyst

Zach Strickland, the “Sultan of SONAR,” curates the weekly market update. Zach is also one of FreightWaves’ Market Experts. With a degree in Finance, Strickland spent the early part of his career in banking before transitioning to transportation in various roles and segments, such as truckload and LTL. He has over 13 years of transportation experience, specializing in data, pricing, and analytics.