Week Ahead: Earnings, Housing and Madoff Trial

Investors next week will be watching earnings from several bellwether companies, lots of housing data and the first trial tied to Bernard Madoff’s massive fraud.

Earnings reports are due from overnight delivery firm FedEx (NYSE:FDX), always widely watched as a gauge of the larger economy, and software maker Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL). Both companies thrive when an array of other sectors are healthy.

Also set to report next week are sporting goods retailer Nike (NYSE:NKE), credit card firm Discover Financial Services (NYSE:DFS), food giant General Mills (NYSE:GIS) and investment bank Jefferies Group (NYSE:JEF).

Labor markets have shown signs of improvement in recent months, leading to a jump in consumer spending and sentiment. Housing data has remained mostly flat, however. Investors will have a lot of housing data to review next week.

The National Association of Realtors will release its March housing index on Monday. The numbers, which shed light on home-builder confidence, have ticked slightly higher since the beginning of the year, offering a bit of optimism to the long-stagnant sector.

A report on February housing starts is out Tuesday. February existing-home sales are due a day later, and a report on new home sales is set for release Friday.

With the spring buying season nearly here, economists are looking for the housing sector to catch up with the stabilizing labor market. The housing market rose faster and higher than any other sector during the credit boom last decade. It fell just as swiftly and deeply and has taken longer than other sectors to heal.

Five new stocks are scheduled to debut in U.S. stock markets, highlighted by software firm ExactTarget and electronic securities exchange BATS Global Markets. Also expected to debut is Chinese online firm Vipshop Holdings.

The trustee trying to recoup money for victims of Madoff’s giant Ponzi scheme will face off against the owners of the New York Mets baseball team in a Manhattan courtroom next week.

The trustee, Irving Picard, is trying to prove that Fred Wilpon, the Mets’ owner, and Wilpon’s colleagues knowingly turned a blind eye to Madoff’s fraud and reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. Wilpon, whose family owns a large New York-based real estate company, has claimed he is no different than any other Madoff victim.