A slower-than-anticipated economic recovery and continued problems with energy-related loans may prevent Continental Illinois Corp. from achieving the modest improvements for 1983 he predicted two months ago, Chairman Roger Anderson said today.

Continental Illinois was hit hard last year by the more than $1 billion in loans it bought from the failed Penn Square National Bank. Its profits nose-dived to $77.9 million from $254.6 million in 1981 and its list of problem loans shot up to $1.9 billion at year's end from about $650 million the year before.

Anderson said at a press conference after Continental's annual meeting that forecasts of 1983 profits of $150 million already look too "ambitious."

He predicted that the bank's list of problem loans--which grew to $2 billion at the end of March--would be lower at the end of the year, but he refused to predict a decline to the $1.5 billion level, as he had forecast earlier.

"Continental appears to be getting well less quickly than they thought they would at the start of the year," said an analyst for a major securities firm who follows the banking industry.

Anderson said, however, that Continental Illinois National Bank, the holding company's main asset, would seek to hang on to its share of the corporate loan market. Even though it is the nation's seventh-biggest bank--whose $41 billion in assets are about one-third those of giants Citibank and Bank of America--Continental became the largest bank lender to U.S. businesses last year, just before its Penn Square problems became public.

About $800 million of the $1 billion in energy-related loans that Continental bought from Oklahoma City's Penn Square either have been written off as uncollectable or classified as problems.

Many analysts said the purchase of the Penn Square Loans was a direct result of Continental's quest to become the nation's preeminent corporate lender, a quest that led it to grow too fast and take on loans that it should not have.

Despite the steep decline in earnings last year--and the major management shakeups that followed--there was little stockholder criticism at the company's annual meeting here today.

"I didn't believe it," said one Continental official. "It helped, I guess, that we didn't lower the dividend. That's what gets most shareholders up in arms." Continental paid $79 million in dividends last year, more than its net income. To do so it had to dip into retained earnings.

One of the few dissenting shareholders suggested that the company's directors failed to do their job and said they all should ask not to be reelected and, if elected, resign. In Japan, they would "be expected to commit hari-kari" after such a bad performance, he said.

Management's slate of directors, including Chairman Anderson, was reelected overwhelmingly