The big difference is AEL and NWLI are life insurers, where MKL and WTM are P&C insurers.
The stock market has been continually worried about the life insurers since the financial crisis due to their long time period of liabilities and corresponding investments, whereas the P&C insurer valuation has rebounded nicely as it is a simpler business with shorter term funding requirements and the ability to adjust premiums yearly as conditions change.
All lifeco's from the the big MET, PRU, MFC are valued cheaply, so it is not just a small company thing, but an industry concern. If rates stay low for 20 years like they have in Japan, there could be some serious issues for some of the life companies.
At its regular meeting on March 14, 2016, the Board of Directors of National Western Life Group, Inc. (the "Company") appointed Ross R. Moody ("Mr. Moody"), the Company's President and Interim Chief Executive Officer, as Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Moody's compensation will not be changing as part of this appointment. The Board also appointed Robert L. Moody, Sr. to the newly created employee position of Chairman Emeritus, for which he will receive monthly compensation of $1,000.
I tend to agree. The father had no need for money and wasn't interested in pushing through a lot of changes, but the son has often been a selling of his option stock implying he needs the money to support his lifestyle. Sure, he will get a raise, but a dividend would help him as would an increasing stock price
Look at it compared to the TLT - 20 year bond and there is a pretty strong inverse correlation.
Reality here is a small, family controlled company will trade at a lower valuation to a widely held large cap. SO run a chart compare of MET to NWLI and NWLI looks pretty good.
The other reality is, no-one will pay up for life insurers in the current rate environment as the risks are too high and ROE's too low. People remember the troubles the Japan insurers got into a few decades ago from low rates and are worried about reinvestment risk.
You either need to be patient and wait for rates to rise, or I'd just move on and find other things.
The other thing you have to remember is the reason we all have been able to buy it so cheap is because of its lack of dividend, the Moody ownership, etc.
AT some point this will change and, whoever owns it then, will benefit, but in the meantime, it seems to be trading in line with most lfeco's.
Re FFG, they a,so have a P&C division, so maybe that is why the higher ROE and P/E. I know when I used to sell software to insurance companies and they were still called Farm Bureau Mutual, they had a good reputation as well.