Banks, tech push Australian shares higher; Appen soars on buyout offer

May 26 (Reuters) - Australian shares inched higher on Thursday, helped by gains in banking and tech stocks, while artificial intelligence company Appen soared after saying it had received a buyout offer from Canada's Telus International.

The S&P/ASX 200 index .AXJO rose 0.1% to 7,161.00 by 0047 GMT after a 0.4% gain on Wednesday, also tracking strength in global equities after minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve's early May meeting showed a strong likelihood of two more half-percentage-point rate hikes in coming months.

Among other key markets, Japan's Nikkei .N225 rose 0.7% to 26,853.13 and S&P 500 E-minis futures EScv1 were up 0.3%.

In Australia, financials .AXFJ advanced 0.6% in their third straight session of gains and hit a one-week high. The "Big Four" banks rose between 0.6% and 1.1%.

Westpac Banking Corp WBC.AX gained 1.2% after saying it would merge its personal and corporate pension funds, BT, with the Mercer Super Trust, another pension fund.

Technology stocks .AXIJ rose 2.4%, with Block's ASX-listed shares SQ2.AX , Computershare CPU.AX and WiseTech Global WTC.AX gaining between 1.8% and 3.2%.

Appen APX.AX soared 30% to top the benchmark stock index after it said had received a A$1.17 billion ($831.05 million)non-binding buyout offer from Canadian business process outsourcing firm Telus International.

On the downside, energy stocks .AXEJ dropped 0.4% to hit a two-week low despite firm crude oil prices. Oil and gas majors Woodside Energy Group WDS.AX and Santos STO.AX fell 0.4% and 0.6%, respectively.

New Zealand's benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index .NZ50 rose 0.3% to 11,204.80.

Fonterra Co-Operative Group FCG.NZ dropped as much as 0.9% and was set for a third straight session of losses, as the dairy firm said it expected to pay lower prices for milk to its farmers next year.

($1 = 1.4079 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Upasana Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu

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