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cash (or cash-like securities) kept in reserve in case of need.

Private equity firms were sitting on more than $1 trillion in dry powder at the end of 2011.

Additional definitions for 'dry powder':

dry powderA powder found in a fire extinguisher that is expelled to smother the fire
dry powderUsed other than as an idiom: see dry, powder.
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"dry powder." Phrases.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2017. Web. 22 Nov. 2017. <http://www.phrases.net/phrase/dry-powder_12103>.

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