* FTSEurofirst 300 index up 0.85 percent
* German energy companies fall sharply
* Autos gain after strong car sales data (Updates with closing prices)
By Atul Prakash and Danilo Masoni
LONDON/MILAN, Sept 15 (Reuters) - European shares closed higher on Tuesday, helped by a positive start at Wall Street, but with German energy firms RWE and E.ON lower after a report they needed to set aside more money to shut down nuclear power plants.
Volumes remained thin as investors were reluctant to make big bets before the Federal Reserve decides on Thursday whether to raise U.S. interest rates for the first time since 2006.
Shares in RWE and E.ON fell 3.3 percent and 6.2 percent respectively after Spiegel Online said they were short as much as 30 billion euros ($34 billion) of the money they need to set aside to build a safe disposal site for nuclear waste as part of Germany’s exit from nuclear power.
E.ON said that nuclear provisions were adequate.
By the close the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index was up 0.85 percent at 1,405.49 points, helped by a rise in U.S. stocks.
Although the benchmark index is up more than 5 percent from a low it hit late last month, it is down about 14 percent from its peak two months ago, mainly on concerns about the pace of economic growth in China and the prospects of a U.S. rate hike.
“Uncertainty about the Fed’s likely decision continues. If there is no rate hike on Thursday, it could also give a signal that the Fed has some concerns about the health of the economy,” said Christian Stocker, strategist at UniCredit in Munich.
Traders raised their bets the Fed would raise interest rates this week as an in-line report on August U.S. retail sales signalled steady U.S. economic growth in the third quarter.
The mood among investors in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, slumped in September to its lowest level in 10 months, hit by fears about slower exports to emerging markets, a survey by the ZEW think tank showed on Tuesday.
The auto sector was up 1.4 percent after figures showed European car registrations surged 11.5 percent last month as a regional market recovery gathered pace.
The STOXX Europe 600 Basic Resources index turned positive having been the top sectoral decliner in Europe.
Miner and commodity trader Glencore recovered from an early drop, buoyed by a rebound in copper. It had been around 8 percent lower in early trade, as a slowdown in demand sent coal prices below levels last seen in the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.
Europe bourses in 2015: link.reuters.com/pap87v
Asset performance in 2015: link.reuters.com/gap87v
Today’s European research round-up
Editing by Jeremy Gaunt/Ruth Pitchford