Truckload Freight Contracts: Understanding Contract & Spot Rates

Throughout 2020, truckload carriers felt the burn of the China-U.S. trade war, declining capacity, and low spot rates. In general, markets with lower spot rates are more beneficial to shippers, keeping carrier profitability in check. The opposite applies when contract rates are lower, allowing carriers to retake control and reap greater profits. In addition, the risk for a resurgence of higher spot rates and renewing interest in truckload freight contracts is an area, shippers should understand and keep their eye on in 2020. According to William B. Cassidy of JOC.com, he describes this chance:

“After six consecutive quarters of deflation, the market is rebounding, heading back towards an inflationary environment, the spot market will reach an inflationary environment by Q1 2020.”

To combat that prediction and also consider the influence of the coronavirus, shippers need to understand the driving forces of change in the truckload market, what is already happening with the coronavirus, and a few tips to better underscore and improve use of both truckload freight contracts and spot rate shipping. 

Driving Forces of Change in Contract and Spot Rate Markets

The biggest driving force of change in the market involves available capacity and its influence on capacity. As explained by Cassidy:

“DAT noted that freight demand, in terms of total spot and contract volumes, has been increasing, with spot volumes rising 7 percent in 2019 year over year and contract volumes 4 percent. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) predicts a 1 percent increase in contract truckload volumes for 2019, down from annualized growth of 3.2 percent in 2018 and 3 percent in 2017.”

How much capacity must exit the market before supply and demand move back to a closer alignment? Some experts believe truckload capacity and freight demand already are closer to equilibrium than they’ve been since 2017 and that a surge in demand could tip the balance. Others think trucking’s supply-demand gap will take more time to close.”

Unfortunately, that prediction and driving force now hangs in the balance with a likely swing away from the prediction. That’s right. Capacity is rapidly increasing overseas, and it will likely lead to changes in the U.S. truckload freight contracts’ market.

The State of Truckload Freight Contracts Will Retract Due to the Coronavirus

Capacity is dependent on the demand in the volume of imported raw materials, finished products, and other supplies from around the world. Many electronics, automotive, and medications and medical equipment arrive in the U.S. from China. In addition, the flow of exports from the U.S. to the APAC region, including the iPhone and agricultural products, are at risk. There is a near-stop to the flow of freight in the region due to the coronavirus. So, what happens in other areas abroad and in the U.S.?

The freight that would have filled trailers and help carriers push spot rates upward vanishes. Now, carriers have too much capacity, too many drivers, and too few lanes to travel that make a profit. As a result, the spot rate market is on the verge of bottoming out, and shippers will benefit to an extent. The real problems for shippers will not become evident until their favored carriers start to close lanes and begin to exhibit signs carriers are looking to gain profitability when more reweighs and reclasses occur or accessorial fees tick up. At this point, shippers will face the uncertainty of limited carrier availability, if any, and an inability to move freight to their customers as cost-effectively.

The only way to maintain operations lies in creating a balance between the use of contract and spot rates to get the best deal to benefit everyone.

The only way to maintain operations lies in creating a balance between the use of contract and spot rates to get the best deal to benefit everyone. As carrier operations begin to suffer the effects of continued drops in the spot rate market, it will be time for shippers to start looking for more carriers and fulfillment options to fill the void.  

How to Better Understand Contract and Spot Rates

Shippers that wish to create a successful balance between the use of spot rate and truckload freight contracts need to follow these steps:

  1. Connect your supply chain assets to a centralized supply chain control tower. 
  2. Leverage the full scale and scope of the BlueGrace TMS. 
  3. Take advantage of managed services, including invoice auditing and accounting services.
  4. Rate shipments across all modes and potential trade lanes to determine the best-case, not the cheapest, shipping option. 
  5. Always consider the “other” factors in tendering freight, including claims’ insurance and management needs.
  6. Diversify your carrier network to include the small and local carriers that have expertise in both truckload and last-mile delivery.
  7. Extend your TMS and order fulfillment systems across your whole supply chain, including brick-and-mortar stores.
  8. Remember to integrate new systems with existing platforms to enable omnichannel capabilities and take advantage of all available inventory. 

Gain Better OTR Rating With an Advanced, Customizable TMS at BlueGrace

The freight rate market is continuously changing to reflect the risks and opportunities in the market. As the year rolls on, shippers need to take the steps necessary to shore up their operations against the industry’s top risks, including market volatility and the coronavirus. Moreover, applying the functions and wide-ranging benefits of a dedicated TMS and 3PL’s lineup of managed services will provide a protective barrier against risk and help your organization succeed. Find out how more information and visibility can improve your use of spot rates and truckload freight contracts by calling BlueGrace at 1.800.MY.SHIPPING or filling out the contact form below.