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FWF Market Insights: March 25, 2021

Analytics on a screen

Load-To-Truck Ratio (L/T) is the number of loads posted for every posted truck available. It is a real-time indicator of market demand and trucking supply — it tells us how tight capacity is and how rates are going to change.

Load-To-Truck Ratio:

  1. Year-over-year, Reefer L/T increased by 313%, Van by 309%, and Flatbed by 206%.
  2. From February 22-28 to March 1-7, dry van L/T decreased by 29%, Reefer L/T decreased by 27%, and Flatbed L/T decreased by 5.6%.
  3. Spot Load Posts are up 162% year-over-year, while Spot Truck Posts are down 24.5%.


  1. Load-To-Truck Ratio is still extremely high year-over-year, leading to tight capacity and high spot rates.
  2. Spot Truck Posts should increase as driver employment increases.

Near the end of 2020, Class 8 Truck Orders skyrocketed to ~40,000 in October, ~57,000 in November, and ~56,000 in December, respectively.

Truck orders started off strong in 2021, with over 40,000 in both January and February. This continues the strong trend of truck orders in the last few months of 2020.


  1. Trucking companies are looking to increase and upgrade their fleets.
  2. Companies will most likely be looking to fill these trucks with drivers in mid-late 2021 and throughout 2022.
  3. These truck order numbers resemble those last seen in July and August of 2018, as spot rates hit multiyear highs.

Reasons for Order Surge:

  1. Successful vaccine results stalled uncertainty about COVID-19.
  2. Employment in the trucking industry has increased since April 2020.

Included below is a graph to illustrate the correlation between new truck orders and employment increases from 2015-2019. Truck orders surged at the end of 2017 and 2018, which was followed by employment surges 6-8 months later when those trucks were delivered.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

This is the seasonally-adjusted data for trucking employment from Feb 2020 – Feb 2021.


  1. There were strong increases in seasonally-adjusted trucking employment April through November.
  2. Trucking employment decreased between November 2020 and February 2021.


  1. An increase in driver supply is beneficial for the economy.
  2. Driver recruitment challenges remain constant due to COVID-19 protocols. While driver employment increases, driver training school constraints may cause a slower increase in employment throughout 2021.

Source: FreightWaves Sonar

  • Outbound Tenders are contractual shipments that can be rejected by the carrier.
  • Higher spot market rates lead to rejections.
  • The Tender Rejection Index is the best indicator for spot rates.
  • Tender Rejections remain high (reefers at 49%, dry van at 26%, then flatbeds at 17%).
  • A 41% National Reefer Tender Rejection Rate means that every 41/100 contracted reefer shipments are being rejected and turned to the spot market.
  • A Tender Rejection Rate above 7-10% usually indicates that spot rates are higher than contract rates.

Volume Outlook 

Source: FreightWaves Sonar

  • Outbound Tender Volumes remain higher than the previous 3 years.
  • This suggests strong demand and volume as the manufacturing sector continues to grow and companies replenish their inventories from the holidays.
  • The Total Outbound Tender Volume Index measures contracted freight volume across all modes of transportation.

Source: FreightWaves Sonar

  • Total import shipments to the U.S. are at 57,250.
  • Well above previous 3-year levels as ports are extremely congested and delayed.
  • Cargo ship capacity is currently unable to meet demand.
  • Distribution centers near the ports are filled as the supply chain is overloaded with goods.
  • Strong surges in consumer goods and e-commerce demand during COVID-19 is the main factor in the volume increase and port congestion.
  • There will be continuously high volumes coming out of U.S. ports for many coming months.


 Economic Outlook 

Source: FreightWaves Sonar

  • Weekly jobless claims currently sit at 746,000.
  • There was an 81,000 jobless claim decrease from February 13th to March 13th.

Source: FreightWaves Sonar

  • Manufacturing employment continues to see a strong positive trend.
  • Manufacturing employment has a strong positive correlation with flatbed volume.

Source: ISM Report on Business

  • The ISM Manufacturing Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) for the U.S. jumped to 60.8 in February 2021 from 58.7 in January 2020.
  • The PMI measures the strength of the manufacturing economy.
  • ISM’s chart shows that manufacturing demand is increasing.
  • COVID-19 levels are creating employee shortages, creating a bottleneck.
  • Commodity prices in the manufacturing segment increased by 12.2 points, now sitting at 77.6.

*A PMI reading above 50 indicates that the manufacturing economy is generally expanding; below 50 indicates that it is generally declining.  Read February’s market insights here.

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