LONDON, March 1 (Reuters) - British house prices fell unexpectedly for the first time in six months during February, reflecting a subdued consumer economy, mortgage lender Nationwide said on Thursday.
House prices fell 0.3 percent month-on-month after a 0.8 percent rise in January, Nationwide said. The consensus of economists polled by Reuters had pointed to an increase of 0.2 percent.
In annual terms, house prices rose 2.2 percent, slowing sharply from growth of 3.2 percent in January. The Reuters poll had pointed to growth of 2.6 percent.
"Month-to-month changes can be volatile, but the slowdown is consistent with signs of softening in the household sector in recent months," Nationwide chief economist Robert Gardner said.
"Retail sales were relatively soft over the Christmas period and at the start of the new year, as were key measures of consumer confidence, as the squeeze on household incomes continued to take its toll."
Consumers, usually the main driver of Britain's economy, have been squeezed by high inflation since the 2016 Brexit vote caused the pound to drop against other currencies. Britain was the slowest growing economy out of the Group of Seven rich countries over the course of 2017.
Nationwide said the outlook for house prices would depend in part on the path of Bank of England interest rates and the progress of Britain's negotiations to leave the European Union.
A Reuters poll of economists published last week showed British house prices are likely to grow weakly over the next few years, at an annual around 2.0 percent. (Reporting by Andy Bruce Editing by Catherine Evans)