May 2023 Freight Market Update

05/11/2023 by Greg Massey

May 2023 Freight Market Update

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Given the sluggish flow of freight in 2023, seeing any signs of life is encouraging. The industry muddled through the first four months of the year with the volume index registering very little movement as seen in Figure 1.1. 

Heading into late April, and the early part of May, seeing upward movement was a welcome sight to carriers and intermediaries. Mid-spring typically brings a bounce from produce and seasonal freight, and this year we are seeing that lift, albeit not at an aggressive pace. Still, even with the slight upturn, freight opportunities continue to be gobbled up by carriers, particularly on the contract side. Historic low rejection rates of under three percent not only mean less freight heading to the spot market, but shippers continue to have the pendulum in their favor with regard to rates.

Figure 1.1


Speaking of tender rejection rates, the low rejection rate is not being felt across all types of equipment as we see in Figure 2.1.  

Vans and reefers are pretty much accepting anything that comes their way. These are two equipment types that saw increases in their number from mid-2020 through 2022, primarily in response to the overwhelming consumer goods demand which typically travels in these types of trailers. Now that demand for these items has cooled, vans and reefers find themselves in a situation where demand is still there, just nowhere near what it was the past few years.  

Flatbeds, on the other hand, did not experience the same demand. In the over-heated freight market, we experienced in the last few years, flatbeds felt the most normal with regard to freight patterns and demand. While they did not get the direct benefit of shippers clamoring for their services, flatbed carriers have also not experienced the same falling out. As a result, they enjoy a balanced market with rejection rates hovering in the mid-teens. This could be short-lived as downward trends in manufacturing and industrial production, combined with a cooling housing market, will lessen the demand for flatbed services.

Figure 2.1

the gap remains

Carrier rates continue to normalize.  

As seen in Figure 3.1, the spot rate on the van side seems to have found a bottom. Contract rates have contracted slightly, but the spread between carrier-published rates and those available with spot rate pricing continues to push past $0.70 per mile. An uptick in spot rates may relieve some of the pressure from shippers on the contracted side for carriers.  Ideally, a spread of $0.15-$0.20 would be more balanced.  

Could this modest uptick in volume shrink the rate gap even more?  Stay tuned to June’s update to find out.

Figure 3.1

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