Financial settlement periods used to be much longer: Before the early 1990s at the London Stock Exchange, for example, stock could be paid for up to 10 working days after it was bought, allowing traders to buy (or sell) shares at the beginning of a settlement period only to sell (or buy) them before the end of the period hoping for a rise in price. This activity was identical to modern day trading, but for the longer duration of the settlement period. But today, to reduce market risk, the settlement period is typically two working days. Reducing the settlement period reduces the likelihood of default, but was impossible before the advent of electronic ownership transfer.
Some of these approaches require short selling stocks; the trader borrows stock from his broker and sells the borrowed stock, hoping that the price will fall and he will be able to purchase the shares at a lower price, thus keeping the difference as their profit. There are several technical problems with short sales - the broker may not have shares to lend in a specific issue, the broker can call for the return of its shares at any time, and some restrictions are imposed in America by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on short-selling (see uptick rule for details). Some of these restrictions (in particular the uptick rule) don't apply to trades of stocks that are actually shares of an exchange-traded fund (ETF).
You're probably looking for deals and low prices, but stay away from penny stocks. These stocks are often illiquid, and chances of hitting a jackpot are often bleak. Many stocks trading under $5 a share become de-listed from major stock exchanges and are only tradable over-the-counter (OTC). Unless you see a real opportunity and have done your research, stay clear of these.