At $4 a share, John Hanson Savings Bank might be considered a bargain. Little more than a year ago, the Beltsville-based thrift's stock climbed to $10, shortly after coming to market at $7 a share in an initial public offering. But like most savings institutions, John Hanson has attracted little or no interest from bargain hunters in the wake of last month's collapse of the stock market.

The stocks of financial institutions in general have fallen sharply amid the turmoil on Wall Street. Thrift stocks, however, were languishing long before October's plunge. The prices of many thrift stocks, including John Hanson's, have declined 20 percent or more in the past year.

But in John Hanson's case, falling stock prices aren't the only cause for concern among shareholders. The savings bank's overall performance since going public last year has been watched nervously by investors.

Last month, John Hanson reported first-quarter net of $901,000 (15 cents a share), compared with a loss of $368,000 (6 cents) in the same period a year earlier. However, net income for fiscal year 1987, which ended June 30, was only $1.1 million (19 cents), compared with a profit of $4.7 million ($1.50) in 1986. Results for fiscal 1986 included a tax benefit of $1.9 million from a net operating loss carryforward.

Nonetheless, income before accounting for that extraordinary item was $2.8 million, still more than twice as much as in fiscal 1987.

Sharply lower earnings, coupled with stock prices wallowing in the $4 range, have made some stockholders restless. They had a different scenario in mind when John Hanson went public. And with good reason, perhaps. They recall that at that time John Hanson's management had just spurned a merger offer of $15 a share from Baltimore Bancorp. Surely John Hanson's potential value was much greater than $7 a share, or even $15 a share.

The thought continues to nag some, as recent conversations have shown. "If they turned down $15 a share for the company, why isn't anybody interested in buying the stock at $3.87 1/2?" one investor wondered.

"I don't understand why this bank doesn't make money," another complained just before John Hanson announced this year's first-quarter results two weeks ago.

The same investor can't understand why "these guys {Hanson's management} made as much in salaries and benefits as the whole company made last year."

John Hanson's top five executives received salaries last year totaling $927,849. The bank's directors received fees of $400 each for every committee meeting they attended. The board's five-member executive committee met 50 times last year.

Irate shareholders complain about stock prices, salaries, directors' fees and management's failure to pay a dividend last year. John Hanson has a great deal more to consider, however, as it tries to satisfy federal regulators. The bank failed to meet its regulatory capital requirement this past June and acknowledges that it "may be subject to administrative actions" by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.

The bank board, which regulates federally insured thrift institutions, requires them to maintain a liabilities-to-assets ratio, or a net worth, of 3 percent. Former privately insured Maryland S&Ls now under federal supervision, such as John Hanson, must maintain net worth of 5 percent. As of June 30, John Hanson's regulatory capital was $13.6 million short of what it needs to satisfy federal requirements.

John Hanson was a Maryland-chartered savings and loan association until 1985. But when the collapse of a private deposit insurance program threatened the state's S&L industry, John Hanson and other thrifts whose deposits were covered by the program were ordered to obtain federal insurance or go out of business. Hanson qualified for federal insurance under the stiffer net-worth requirement, but only after the state had agreed to issue a special certificate for more than $11 million to raise Hanson's net worth to federal standards.

Even then, however, Hanson said it actually was short of the required net worth figure.

John Hanson officials attribute the current shortfall in regulatory capital to increased growth in liabilities. They further note that the bank board could "place certain limitations" on the institution's authority to borrow as a result of the failure to satisfy certain regulations.

When asked about the regulatory requirement yesterday, Charles A. Dukes Jr., John Hanson's chairman and chief executive, said, "We filed a three-year plan back in July {that} calls for us to be back in compliance by June 1988."

Earlier this year, Dukes had said, "We are confident we have established strategic direction that will lead us to greater profitability in the coming years."

Dukes' assurances apparently haven't convinced skeptics among shareholders. Not even a "highly profitable" first quarter, as management described it, has made a difference to some. "Window dressing," huffed one investor.

Aside from having to satisfy federal regulators, John Hanson must now prove that it didn't make a $36 million mistake when it rejected Baltimore Bancorp's offer. Moreover, it has to prove to investors that they, too, didn't make a costly mistake.