UPDATE 2-Canada's Encana smashes profit estimates

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July 21 (Reuters) - Canadian oil and gas producer Encana Corp on Friday posted a quarterly profit that handily beat estimates and the company said it was expecting a strong 2018 even with current commodity prices.

Oil prices began to rise late last year after a two-year slump and are now hovering around $50 per barrel as an OPEC-led production cut and a rebound in demand slowly erode a global glut.

Encana has benefited from downsizing its operations to focus on four core North American assets: the Montney and Duvernay in western Canada, and the Eagle Ford and Permian in the United States.

The company raised its forecast for production growth from core assets in 2017 to between 25 percent and 30 percent from the more than 20 percent growth it had forecast in May.

Encana reported operating earnings of 18 cents per share, which largely beat analysts' average estimate of 4 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Calgary-based Encana posted net earnings of $331 million, or 34 cents per share, in the second quarter ended June 30, compared with a loss of $601 million, or 71 cents per share, a year earlier.

Operating earnings, which exclude most one-time items, doubled to $180 million.

However, Encana said core asset production fell to 246,500 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d) from 268,300 barrels boe/d in the year-ago quarter.

Total oil and gas production fell to 316,000 (boe/d), including total liquids production of 124,900 barrels per day (bbls/d), from 368,300 boe/d a year earlier.

(Reporting by Anirban Paul in Bengaluru; Editing by Martina D'Couto)