As generally expected, the second quarter of this year was a bit tougher for operators of oceangoing tankers and cargo ships. Nevertheless, Frontline (NYSE:FRO) posted a quarter that surpassed analyst expectations.

Compared to last year, daily income for Frontline's VLCC (very large crude carrier) and smaller Suezmax-class ships fell about 14% and 7% respectively, while daily income per ship for Suezmax OBO (ore/bulk/oil) vessels rose 35%. (Only about 10% of Frontline's fleet falls in this class.) Nevertheless, revenue for the period dropped only 6%.

While operating income plunged significantly from the first quarter (down about 40%), it rose 3% year over year. In addition, net income still managed to surpass mean analyst estimates by a healthy margin.

With the second quarter's results in tow, management declared a $2-per-share dividend -- below last quarter's $3.10, but well above the year-ago $1.60. That seems incredibly generous, given Frontline's current $44 share price. Dividend volatility is one of this stock's risk factors as a high-yield play. Management has a laudable commitment to returning capital to shareholders, but the amount will vary from quarter to quarter with the state of the business. Keep in mind that Frontline's 12-month historical dividend history isn't necessarily a reliable predictor of future results.

Management believes that shipping rates will improve in the second half of the year, and the current shipping futures market supports that idea. I don't think rates will reach the exceptionally high levels of last year's second half, but double-digit sequential improvements for both the third and fourth quarter are certainly reasonable.

As one of the largest operators of VLCC-class ships, Frontline's success is closely tied to the global demand for oil. While the exact figures of supply and demand will change from quarter to quarter, I believe that worldwide oil shipments will probably continue to rise. Though new pipelines are being built, ocean-going vessels should still play a major role.

However, Fools should realize that this is not a risk-free income play. Frontline's fleet isn't that old, but only about two-thirds of its ships are double-hulled. That's something to keep in mind for the future, when mandatory phaseouts of single-hulled ships take effect.

Nevertheless, Frontline continues to generate cash flow and share that wealth with stockholders. Shipping rates will probably always be volatile, but operators don't seem to be adding capacity at an irresponsible rate. Accordingly, this might still be a front-line option for investors looking to capitalize on rising global energy demand.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).