* Cuts capex to $900 mln-$1 bln from $1.5 bln-$1.7 bln
* 4th-qtr operating profit $0.13/shr vs est. $0.01 (Adds details, CEO comment, shares)
Feb 24 (Reuters) - Canada's Encana Corp cut its 2016 capital spending forecast to less than half its 2015 expenditure and said it would lay off 20 percent of its workforce this year.
The oil and gas producer cut its capital budget for 2016 to $900 million-$1 billion from $1.5 billion-$1.7 billion it forecast earlier as a steep drop in oil prices forces the company to focus on core assets and lower costs.
Encana's U.S.-listed shares rose about 3 percent in premarket trading on Wednesday.
Crude prices have dropped more than 70 percent since mid-2014, forcing companies such as Canada's Cenovus Energy Inc to cut capital spending, sell assets and lay off employees.
Encana will "invest virtually all of our capital in our core four assets and our cost structure will be about $550 million lower than in 2015," Chief Executive Doug Suttles said in a statement.
The company is focusing on the Permian and Eagle Ford shale fields in Texas, and the Duvernay and Montney fields in Canada.
U.S. natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy Corp more than halved its annual capital budget on Wednesday and said it would sell more assets this year.
Encana also lowered the upper end of its production target for this year to 360,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) from 370,000 boepd, maintaining the lower end at 340,000 boepd.
The Calgary-based company, which cut 200 jobs in July last year, has halved its workforce since 2013. Encana had about 4,193 employees at the end of 2012.
Encana reported a net loss of $612 million attributable to common shareholders for the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with a year-earlier profit, mainly due to impairment charges of $514 million.
Excluding items, the company had an operating profit of 13 cents per share, handily beating the analyst average estimate of 1 cent, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Encana benefited from an over 36 percent rise in its oil and natural gas liquids production.
The company's U.S.-listed shares were trading at $3.10 before the bell. Up to Tuesday's close, the stock had fallen nearly 77 percent in the past 12 months. (Reporting by Anet Josline Pinto in Bengaluru; Editing by Kirti Pandey)