There is an urgent need for a "comprehensive and sustained attack on inflation in the United States," Bank of America President A. W. Clausen said to some 1200 shareholders at the bank's annual meeting here yesterday.

Clausen called for a four-step economic program that he said could help ease the problems posed by inflation and unemployment.

He called first on the Federal Reserve Bank to continue its policy of gradually slowing the growth of the U.S. money supply. "Such action restrains inflation and improves psychology, particularly in the business and investment communities," he said.

He then said the federal government should seek a balanced budget by 1981 or 1982. "Such a move toward physical discipline is long overdue," he said, adding that a "marked decline in the deficit would reduce inflationary pressures and markedly improve consumer and business confidence."

Third, Clausen called for the government to stimulate capital investment through tax incentives, "increasing the efficiency and capacity of plant and equipment."

Finally, he called for increased efforts to shore up the ailing dollar abroad. Specifically, he suggested a reduction in the national dependence on oil and "intelligent and well-timed intervention in the foreign exchange markets."

Although Clausen admitted that his program "does not create jobs in the same sense that a public works program does, an attack on the roots of inflation would have a very beneficial effect on our unemployment problem."

He said, for example, that business people "would once again be able to make long-term commitments without fearing that inflation may turn what once seemed like a sound business decision into a costly mistake." Consumers, also would be more willing to spend with decreased concern that inflation would "undermine their standard of living," he added.

In his discussion of the bank's financial performance this past year, Clausen said that the 17.6 percent increase in income before securities transactions was the biggest year-to-year gain in the last 15 years. He also said that the bank's 14.7 percent average growth in earnings per share over the past five years was considerably better than any of 15 other major bank holding companies.

Clausen also projected "another excellent year for us," citing a 23.8 percent gain in income before securities transactions in the first quarter of 1978.

During the meeting, more than 50 protesters picketed in front of the Scottish Rite Auditorium, site of the gathering, protesting the banks investments in South Africa and Chile.

In his speech, Clausen referred to two stockholders resolutions calling on Bank of America to cease dealings with the two countries.

"What I'm concerned with here is a larger principle, the importance - indeed the necessity - of guarding against politicizing international trading and financial movements," he told the stockholders.

"I cannot emphazise too strongly that we detest discrimination, political repression and brutality, wherever practiced," he said.

But, he added, "we at Bank of America are firmly convinced that our belief in human rights must be demonstrated - not by setting ourselves up as a judge of others, a posture as arrogant as it would be futile - but by practicing positive social responsibility in our own operations, do." That we have conscientiously tried to

But protesters from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility cited recent announcements from Chase Manhattan Bank, Chemical Bank and Citibank that they would be making no further loans to the South African government or its agencies. The group called on Bank of America to follow suit.