Consumer sentiment fell unexpectedly in early March as an unusually harsh winter seemed to dull people's outlook on the economy's health. The index reading was 79.9, down from 81.6 in February and 82.5 in December, according to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary index of sentiment. The median estimate made by economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected to see a slight uptick in confidence to 82. "The winter weather is not a reason to get rosy about the economy or personal finances, so we're seeing consumers hold here," said Sean Incremona, a senior economist at 4cast Inc. in New York. The index averaged 89 in the five years before 2008, when the financial crisis hit, and averaged 64.2 in the 18-month contraction that followed. The weak consumer confidence was coupled with a 0.1 percent drop in producer prices for February, also reported on Friday morning. The surprising drop could partly be weather related. The survey's index of expectation for the next six months also decreased to 69.4, the lowest since November. The gauge of current conditions, which measures Americans' view of their personal finances, rose to 96.1 in March from 95.4 a month earlier.